We have analyzed phenotypic, functional, and molecular properties of B-chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) cells as compared to normal B cell differentiation stages and/or subsets. The possibility that the target B cell population transformed by the I primary oncogenic event(s) belongs to the normal CD5+ B cell subset from B mantle zone of secondary follicles is highly likely on phenotypic grounds. Though the genes responsible for the primary oncogenic event are presently unknown, a number of functional and molecular findings indicate that the end-product of their transforming activity is a cell frozen in the G0 phase of the cell cycle. This cell has several abnormalities that prevent an appropriate mitogenic response and presents a pattern of apoptosis-related gene expression that hinders apoptotic death. Pivotal to this apoptosis-escaping capacity is the expression of Bcl-2. We suggest that the increased expression of Bcl-2 together with an asynchronism between the expression of Bcl-2, c-myc, and APO1/Fas gene products shift the cellular balance away from apoptosis thereby helping the progressive accumulation in G0 of malignant CD5+ B cells.
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