C-myc proto-oncogene transcripts from serially harvested, colony-stimulating activity (CSA)-stimulated, normal progenitor-enriched human bone marrow cells were compared to those of the promyelocytic leukemia cell line HL-60 and to those of freshly obtained human myeloid leukemic cells. During the early culture period both normal and leukemic cells expressed the c-myc oncogene. In normal cells maximal expression occurred after 24 h of culture and did not occur in the absence of CSA. At this time, progranulocytes predominated in the cultured cells. Although cellular proliferation occurred for 96 h in vitro, c-myc expression ceased after 24-36 h. Terminally differentiated cells predominated in these cultures by 120 h. In contrast, although leukemic cells also expressed c-myc in vitro, transcription persisted throughout the culture period and, in the case of HL-60 cells, occurred in the absence of exogenous CSA. We also noted that normal cells with only one diploid gene copy exhibited, after 24 h of culture, only twofold fewer transcripts than did HL-60 cells in which there were 16 myc copies. Furthermore, c-myc mRNA degradation rates were similar in normal cells and in HL-60 cells. We conclude that c-myc transcription is a normal event in granulopoiesis linked to proliferative activity as well as to primitive development stage. Furthermore, the most consistent abnormality in leukemic cells in vitro is their failure to suppress transcriptional activity of this gene. We suggest that c-myc transcription in HL-60 cells may be appropriate for cells arrested at the developmental stage and that the amplified genes in HL-60 cells are quiscent relative to c-myc in normal cells at the same differentiation stage. The techniques described herein may be of value in identifying mechanisms by which normal hematopoietic cells suppress c-myc expression and aberrancies of these mechanisms in leukemic cells.
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