In Philadelphia chromosome-positive human leukemias, the c-abl proto-oncogene on chromosome 9 becomes fused to the bcr gene on chromosome 22, and chimeric Bcr-Abl proteins are produced. The fused Bcr sequences activate the tyrosine kinase, actin-binding, and transforming functions of Abl. Activation of the Abl transforming function has been shown to require two distinct domains of Bcr: domain 1 (Bcr amino acids 1 to 63) and domain 2 (Bcr amino acids 176 to 242). The amino acid sequence of domain 1 indicates that it may be a coiled-coil oligomerization domain. We show here that domain 1 of Bcr forms a homotetramer. Tetramerization of Bcr-Abl through Bcr domain 1 correlates with activation of the tyrosine kinase and F-actin-binding functions of Abl. Disruption of the coiled coil by insertional mutagenesis inactivates the oligomerization function as well as the ability of Bcr-Abl to transform Rat-1 fibroblasts or to abrogate interleukin-3 dependence in lymphoid cells. These results strongly suggest that Bcr-Abl oligomers are the active entities in transformation.
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