We have investigated the mechanisms of defects in the glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored complement regulatory proteins delay-accelerating factor (DAF) and/or CD59 in a panel of human leukaemia cell lines that lack surface expression of these proteins: U937 (DAF+/CD59-), CEM (DAF-/CD59+), TALL (DAF-/CD59-) and a substrain of Ramos [Ramos(-)] (DAF-/CD59-). Northern blotting and reverse transcription-PCR revealed that the main cause of the DAF and/or CD59 deficiency is the failure of mRNA expression in most of the cell lines, except in Ramos(-) in which sufficient mRNA for DAF and CD59 was produced. U937, CEM and TALL cells were not defective in GPI anchor formation as assessed by the detection of other GPI-anchored proteins. No gene abnormality corresponding to DAF or CD59 was detected by Southern blotting. Thus the cause of the defects of DAF and/or CD59 in these leukaemia cell lines except for Ramos(-) is virtually undetectable steady-state levels of the relevant mRNA, most likely attributable to lack of transcription in these cell lines. On the other hand, Ramos(-) cells failed to generate a GPI anchor, whereas they normally expressed DAF and CD59 transcripts. The transfection of phosphatidylinositol-glycan class A (PIG-A) cDNA into Ramos(-) cells restored DAF and CD59 expression, indicating that the defective mechanism in GPI anchor formation is similar to that in paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria (PNH) cells, i.e. a deficiency of the PIG-A gene product. Thus the mechanisms of the defects of DAF and/or CD59 in human leukaemia cell lines are not uniform, and in most cases are different from that proposed to cause PNH.

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