Internal tandem duplication (ITD) mutations of the juxtamembrane domain-coding sequence of the FLT3 gene are found in up to 34% of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and are associated with a poor prognosis. FLT3/ITDs result in constitutive activation of the tyrosine kinase domain and transform growth factor-dependent cell lines. FLT3 activation leads to antiapoptotic and proliferative signals, but little is known about the impact of FLT3/ITDs on differentiation. This study was designed to investigate the effect of FLT3/ITD expression on the differentiation of the 32Dcl3 (32D) myeloblastic cell line to neutrophils in response to granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF). Expression of FLT3/ITD completely blocked morphologic differentiation and induction of myeloperoxidase (MPO), lysozyme, and CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein ∈ (C/EBP∈) in response to G-CSF. Wild-type FLT3 and vector-transfected 32D cells were able to differentiate, although the maturation of FLT3-transfected cells was delayed by FLT3 ligand (FL) stimulation. CEP-701, a potent FLT3 tyrosine kinase inhibitor, overcame the morphologic block in differentiation caused by FLT3/ITD expression and allowed G-CSF induction of myeloid maturation markers. These findings suggest that blocking differentiation may be one of the mechanisms by which FLT3/ITDs contribute to leukemogenesis. CEP-701 and other FLT3 inhibitors may be useful for overcoming the block to differentiation (as well as the block to apoptosis) in the leukemic cells of patients with AML.
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