Transcription factors, translocations, and leukemia

J. Nichols, S. D. Nimer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


The frequent occurrence of TF gene involvement in translocations associated with leukemia is remarkable, although not yet explained. The wide variety of TFs involved in these translocations and the different stages of cellular maturation argue against a unifying mechanism. Recombinases, active during B-cell and T-cell development, have been implicated in gene arrangements involving TCR genes and in the SIL/SCL rearrangement, which involves two genes not normally rearranged. However, other mechanisms must clearly be active in generating these molecular abnormalities and perhaps they relate to the multistep maturation and differentiation processes and continuous cell turnover seen in hematopoietic cells. The difficulties in obtaining human solid tumor samples may make it more difficult to identify translocations involving TF genes in solid tumors. Recently, the cytogenetic analysis of solid tumors has improved and specific cytogenetic abnormalities have been associated with specific types of tumors. With advanced techniques, such as fluorescent in situ hybridization (a technique that does not depend on cell growth) and PCR, abnormalities involving TF genes will be discovered. Abnormalities of TF genes, other than translocations, have been seen in a broad variety of nonhematopoietic malignancies. The p53 protein has been shown to bind DNA in a sequence-specific fashion and interact with a variety of DNA tumor virus oncoproteins. The broad range of cell types that harbor p53 abnormalities suggests that TF abnormalities will likely be implicated in many solid tumors. We have detailed several examples of how gene rearrangements that accompany chromosomal translocations in acute leukemia can alter the expression or activity of cellular TFs. Several translocations generate fusion RNA transcripts and fusion TF proteins with altered functional characteristics. Other translocations result in the expression of a gene not normally detectable in hematopoietic cells or alter the level of its expression, or affect the promoter usage or exon structure of the gene (Table 2). Studies are underway in many laboratories to characterize the biologic activity of these abnormal TFs and it remains to be proven that these molecular abnormalities are directly linked with leukemogenesis. The identification of abnormal fusion transcripts and proteins may allow specific therapies to be directed against 'tumor-specific' DNA, mRNA, or protein targets. Therapeutic strategies based on antisense or ribozyme technology may be used to turn off expression of these genes and inhibit leukemia cell growth. Immunologic methods can also be used to direct therapy against the malignant cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2953-2963
Number of pages11
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Hematology
  • Cell Biology


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