The retinoblastoma protein (Rb), an important ubiquitous cell cycle regulator, was initially identified as the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor. To further address the activities of Rb in proliferation and tumorigenesis in the hematopoietic lineage, we transplanted Rb-/- fetal liver cells into sibling mice and assessed the outcome of Rb-/- hematopoietic cells in both short-term and long-term studies. Rb-/- hematopoietic cells rescued lethally irradiated mice with an efficiency comparable to that of wild-type cells. In spleen colony-forming unit assays, proliferation rates of the Rb-/- cells were greater than those of the wild-type cells. Similarly, in vitro burst-forming unit-erythroid and colony-forming unit-erythroid assays showed increased erythroid colony numbers from Rb-/- embryonic livers. Recipients of Rb-/- cells lived for more than 15–18 months, and most blood cell lineages matured normally with the expected switch from fetal to adult hemoglobin. However, the continued presence of nucleated erythrocytes in the peripheral blood and extensive extramedullary erythropoiesis indicated that the Rb-/- erythrocytes were not completely normal. No erythroleukemia developed during the 15–18 month period following transplantation. These results demonstrate the mitogenic effect but not tumorigenic transformation in erythrocyte lineage in the absence of Rb, which is distinct from the effect of Rb deficiency in neuroectodermal cells. The study supports the prevalent model that loss of the ubiquitously expressed tumor suppressor gene predisposes to only a limited spectrum of tumors.

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This work was supported by NIH Grants CA49649 and HD30625 (to E. Y-H. P. L.) and in part by P. I. C. A. Coltman, Jr. Grant U01-CA60432.

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