We have investigated the expression of interleukin-3 receptor α (IL-3Rα) chain in primary blasts from 79 patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), 25 patients with B-acute lymphoid leukemia (B-ALL), and 7 patients with T-acute lymphoid leukemia (T-ALL) to evaluate a linkage between the expression of this receptor chain, blast proliferative status, and disease prognosis. Although IL-3Rα chain was scarcely expressed in most patients with T-ALL, it was overexpressed in 40% and 45% of patients with B-ALL and AML, respectively, compared with the levels observed in normal CD34 + progenitors. The biological and clinical significance of this overexpression pattern was investigated in AML. At the biological level, elevated IL-3Rα expression was associated with peculiar properties of leukemic blasts, specifically in 3 areas. First, in all patients the blasts expressing elevated IL-3Rα levels exhibited higher cycling activity and increased resistance to apoptosis triggered by growth factor deprivation. Second, spontaneous signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 (Stat5) phosphorylation was observed in 13% of AML patients, all pertaining to the group of patients exhibiting high IL-3Rα expression. Third, following IL-3 treatment, Stat5 was activated at higher levels in blasts with elevated IL-3Rα expression. At the clinical level, a significant correlation was observed between the level of IL-3Rα expression and the number of leukemic blasts at diagnosis, and patients exhibiting elevated IL-3Rα levels had a lower complete remission rate and survival duration than those showing normal IL-3Rα levels. These findings suggest that in AML, deregulated expression of IL-3Rα may contribute to the proliferative advantage of the leukemic blasts and, hence, to a poor prognosis.
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