The bcl2 protooncogene was originally discovered because of its involvement in t(14;18) chromosomal translocations frequently found in non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. The expression of this gene is reported to be highly tissue specific, with bcl2 mRNAs being readily detectable only in hematolymphoid tissues and brain. To explore the possible involvement of bcl2 in neural tumors, we surveyed a variety of tumor cell lines for the presence of the p26-BCL2 protein by immunoprecipitation and immunoblotting methods. Very high levels of BCL2 protein were found in three of nine neuroblastoma (NB) cell lines examined; these levels of p26-BCL2 were comparable to lymphoma cell lines that contain a t(14;18). Despite the impressive relative amounts of BCL2 protein, however, no structural alterations or changes in the methylation status of bcl2 genes were detected in these NB cell lines by conventional Southern blotting. Of the other NB cell lines surveyed, three contained intermediate levels of BCL2 and another three cell lines had little or no detectable BCL2 protein, raising the possibility that determination of relative levels of BCL2 protein may help to segregate neuroblastomas into groups with different biological and clinical characteristics. BCL2 protein levels were not influenced by induction of neuronal differentiation with nerve growth factor in two of the two cell lines examined [SH-SY5Y (high BCL2); GICAN (low BCL2)] and did not correlate with N-MYC gene amplification or expression of nerve growth factor receptors. NB cell lines that contained little or no detectable BCL2 protein, however, tended to contain significant proportions of flat epithelioid cells, whereas bcl2-expressing cell lines were composed primarily of neuronal-like cells, suggesting that expression of this protooncogene correlates with the differentiation characteristics of these tumor cell lines. In addition to NBs, lower levels of BCL2 protein were also found in a variety of other neural crest-derived tumors and tumor cell lines, including some neuroepitheliomas, Ewing's sarcomas, neurofibromas, and melanomas. With regard to tumors of central nervous system origin, bcl2 expression was absent from most medulloblastomas but was detected at moderate to low levels in a retinoblastoma and some glioblastoma multiforme cell lines. Taken together, these findings imply that bcl2 protooncogene expression is differentially regulated within the various lineages of cells that give rise to the nervous system.


This work was supported by NIH Grants CA47956 and NS25044; ACS Grant CH460; and a Scholar Award (J. C. R.) from the Leukemia Society of America.

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