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Br J Haematol. 1991 Oct;79 Suppl 1:34-7.

The molecular pathology of chronic myelogenous leukaemia.

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Department of Clinical Immunology and Biological Therapy, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030.


The first consistent karyotypic abnormality found to be associated with neoplastic disease was the Philadelphia (Ph) chromosome (Nowell & Hungerford, 1960). Furthermore, the best-studied example of translocation-mediated gene activation occurs in leukaemia patients bearing this abnormality (reviewed by Kurzrock et al, 1988). In these individuals, the Ph translocation (t(9;22)(q34;q11)) results in transposition of the ABL proto-oncogene from chromosome 9q34 to 22q11, where it is fused with part of the BCR gene. It is now known that as a result of the Ph translocation, p160BCR and p145ABL (the normal BCR and ABL gene products) are replaced by p210BCR-ABL. This aberrant protein constitutes the molecular fingerprint of CML. The enhanced tyrosine phosphokinase enzymatic activity (a property possessed by some growth factor receptors and transformation-inducing oncogenes) of p210BCR-ABL implicates a direct role for this molecule in the pathogenesis of CML. Because the Ph translocation is present in the early chronic phase, the union of the BCR and ABL genes is probably involved in the initiation of the leukaemic process. The secondary molecular forces driving progression of CML to blast crisis are however unknown, and may differ from patient to patient. Approximately 10% of CML patients lack a Ph chromosome. One-half of these individuals have bcr rearrangement and express p210BCR-ABL. Ph+ and Ph- bcr+ (p210+) CML are identical and should be treated the same. Molecular follow-up of diploid bcr+ CML patients is essential for detection of persistent malignancy after therapy. The presence of a specific marker--the BCR-ABL message--permits the development of new diagnostic approaches for CML. For instance, detection of a BCR-ABL message with the use of the highly sensitive polymerase chain reaction, a technique capable of detecting up to one leukaemia cell amongst one million normal cells, yields important information about minimal residual disease. Finally, the use of therapy directed against the BCR-ABL product may be a worthwhile strategy which deserves investigation, and may prompt a new era of tumour-specific treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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