The expression of three growth-regulated protooncogenes, c-myc, c-myb, and p53, and the S-phase-specific histone H3 gene, was compared in bone marrow cells from multiple myeloma patients and normal controls by measuring the amount of specific RNA by Northern blot analysis. Four samples contained at least 72% of myeloma cells, one sample 43%, and one 11%. Expression of the protooncogenes was similar in normal and myeloma bone marrow cells, whereas that of histone H3 gene was significantly reduced (between 10 and 15 times) in samples containing at least 43% of malignant plasma cells and not detectable in those containing more than 72% of neoplastic cells. Protooncogene levels of expression were compared to those of the H3 gene to distinguish the increased expression of a growth-regulated gene due to a true deregulation from overexpression reflecting solely an increase in the fraction of cycling cells. The ratios of expression of protooncogenes to histone H3 were markedly increased in multiple myeloma cells; the highest ratios were found in the patients with the highest number of malignant plasma cells. These results suggest that the expression of three growth-regulated oncogenes (c-myc, c-myb, p53) is altered in myelomatous plasma cells.
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