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Mol Med. 1997 January; 3(1): 72–81.
PMCID: PMC2230102

CD3-epsilon overexpressed in prothymocytes acts as an oncogene.


BACKGROUND: Upon engagement of the T cell receptor for antigen, its associated CD3 proteins recruit signal transduction molecules, which in turn regulate T lymphocyte proliferation, apoptosis, and thymocyte development. Because some signal transducing molecules recruited by CD3-epsilon, i.e., p56lck and p59fyn, are oncogenic and since we previously found that overexpression of CD3-epsilon transgenes causes a block in T lymphocyte and NK cell development, we tested the hypothesis that aberrant CD3-epsilon signaling leads both to abnormal T lymphocyte death and lymphomagenesis. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Ten independently derived transgenic mouse lines were generated with four different genomic CD3-epsilon constructs. Mice either homozygous or hemizygous for each transgene were analyzed for an arrest in T lymphocyte development and for the occurrence of T cell lymphomas. RESULTS: Aggressive clonal T cell lymphomas developed at very high frequencies in seven mouse lines with intermediate levels of copies of CD3-epsilon derived transgenes. However, these lymphomas were not found when high copy numbers of CD3-epsilon transgenes caused a complete block in early thymic development or when a transgene was used in which the exons coding for the CD3-epsilon protein were deleted. Analyses of a series of double mutant mice, tgCD3-epsilon x RAG-2null, indicated that lymphomagenesis was initiated in lineage-committed prothymocytes, i.e., before rearrangement of the T cell receptor genes. In addition, the transgene coding for the CD3-epsilon cytoplasmic domain and its transmembrane region induced a T cell differentiation signal in premalignant tgCD3-epsilon x RAG-2null mice. CONCLUSION: The nonenzymatic CD3-epsilon protein acted as a potent oncogene when overexpressed early in T lymphocyte development. Lymphomagenesis was dependent on signal transduction events initiated by the cytoplasmic domain of CD3-epsilon.

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