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J Immunol. 2013 Dec 15;191(12):6200-7. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1300744. Epub 2013 Nov 11.

Malignant transformation of CD4+ T lymphocytes mediated by oncogenic kinase NPM/ALK recapitulates IL-2-induced cell signaling and gene expression reprogramming.

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Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104;


Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK), physiologically expressed only by nervous system cells, displays a remarkable capacity to transform CD4(+) T lymphocytes and other types of nonneural cells. In this study, we report that activity of nucleophosmin (NPM)/ALK chimeric protein, the dominant form of ALK expressed in T cell lymphomas (TCLs), closely resembles cell activation induced by IL-2, the key cytokine supporting growth and survival of normal CD4(+) T lymphocytes. Direct comparison of gene expression by ALK(+) TCL cells treated with an ALK inhibitor and IL-2-dependent ALK(-) TCL cells stimulated with the cytokine revealed a very similar, albeit inverse, gene-regulation pattern. Depending on the analysis method, up to 67% of the affected genes were modulated in common by NPM/ALK and IL-2. Based on the gene expression patterns, Jak/STAT- and IL-2-signaling pathways topped the list of pathways identified as affected by both IL-2 and NPM/ALK. The expression dependence on NPM/ALK and IL-2 of the five selected genes-CD25 (IL-2Rα), Egr-1, Fosl-1, SOCS3, and Irf-4-was confirmed at the protein level. In both ALK(+) TCL and IL-2-stimulated ALK(-) TCL cells, CD25, SOCS3, and Irf-4 genes were activated predominantly by the STAT5 and STAT3 transcription factors, whereas transcription of Egr-1 and Fosl-1 was induced by the MEK-ERK pathway. Finally, we found that Egr-1, a protein not associated previously with either IL-2 or ALK, contributes to the cell proliferation. These findings indicate that NPM/ALK transforms the target CD4(+) T lymphocytes, at least in part, by using the pre-existing, IL-2-dependent signaling pathways.

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