The chimaeric protein Bcr/Abl, the hallmark of chronic myeloid leukaemia, has been connected with several signalling pathways, such as those involving protein kinase B/Akt, JNK (c-Jun N-terminal kinase) or ERKs (extracellular-signal-regulated kinases) 1 and 2. However, no data about the p38 MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) have been reported. Here, we present evidence showing that Bcr/Abl is able to modulate this signalling pathway. Transient transfection experiments indicated that overexpression of Bcr/Abl in 293T cells is able to activate p38 MAPK or induce p73 stabilization, suggesting that c-Abl and Bcr/Abl share some biological substrates. Interestingly, the control exerted by Bcr/Abl on the p38 MAPK pathway was not only mediated by the tyrosine kinase activity of Bcr/Abl, as the use of STI571 demonstrated. In fact, Bcr alone was able to induce p38 MAPK activation specifically through MKK3 (MAP kinase kinase 3). Supporting these observations, chronic myeloid leukaemia-derived K562 cells or BaF 3 cells stably transfected with Bcr/Abl showed higher levels of phosphorylated p38 MAPK compared with Bcr/Abl-negative cells. While Bcr/Abl-negative cells activated p38 MAPK in response to Ara-C (1-β-D-arabinofuranosylcytosine), Bcr/Abl-positive cells were unable to activate p38 MAPK, suggesting that the p38 MAPK pathway is not sensitive to Abl-dependent stimuli in Bcr/Abl-positive cells. Our results demonstrate that the involvement of Bcr/Abl in the p38 MAPK pathway is a key mechanism for explaining resistance to Ara-C, and could provide a clue for new therapeutic approaches based on the use of specific Abl inhibitors.

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