Retroviral insertion mutagenesis is considered a powerful tool to identify cancer genes in mice, but its significance for human cancer has remained elusive. Moreover, it has recently been debated whether common virus integrations are always a hallmark of tumor cells and contribute to the oncogenic process. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a heterogeneous disease with a variable response to treatment. Recurrent cytogenetic defects and acquired mutations in regulatory genes are associated with AML subtypes and prognosis. Recently, gene expression profiling (GEP) has been applied to further risk stratify AML. Here, we show that mouse leukemia genes identified by retroviral insertion mutagenesis are more frequently differentially expressed in distinct subclasses of adult and pediatric AML than randomly selected genes or genes located more distantly from a virus integration site. The candidate proto-oncogenes showing discriminative expression in primary AML could be placed in regulatory networks mainly involved in signal transduction and transcriptional control. Our data support the validity of retroviral insertion mutagenesis in mice for human disease and indicate that combining these murine screens for potential proto-oncogenes with GEP in human AML may help to identify critical disease genes and novel pathogenetic networks in leukemia.
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