The loss of a single molecule from white blood cells may cause chronic leukemia progression, according to a study published in the journal Cell (2010 March 5;140(5): 652-665).

The study, led by Danilo Perrotti, MD, PhD, associate professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State University, focused on how the activity of the molecule miR-328 in white blood cells affected chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) progression.

Researchers found that when immature white blood cells lost the molecule, leukemia progressed from its more treatable chronic phase to become life-threatening. Further findings revealed that miR-328 binds to a protein that prevents immature blood cells from maturing.

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The authors explained that during CML progression, the level of miR-328 drops, allowing the protein to be extremely active and therefore contributing to the transition from the chronic disease phase to blast crisis phase.

Dr. Perrotti stated that the study’s findings suggest that maintaining the level of miR-328 might represent a new therapeutic strategy for CML patients in a blast crisis stage who fail to benefit from targeted agents such as imatinib and dasatinib. “These findings may help unravel novel pathways responsible for the initiation and progression of leukemia generally,” Dr. Perrotti concluded.