Malignant cells of patients with cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) are of monoclonal origin and of the CD4+/CD45RO+ subset. Since unlike their normal counterparts, triggering of their TCR/CD3 in vitro elicits only a weak mitogenic response, we set out to determine which of the signal transduction molecules initiated by anti-CD3ε antibodies are affected in neoplastic cells. The results obtained from analysis of tumor cells from four patients show a general reduction in basal and induced tyrosine phosphorylation of a wide range of signaling proteins. Furthermore, the function of members from distinct families of protein tyrosine kinases was altered in neoplastic cells. The enzymatic activity of the membrane-bound fraction of Csk was suppressed, and its association with other cellular proteins was altered. There was a decline in the amount and activity of Syk, and a slight decrease in the specific activity of Lck kinases. Zap70 tyrosyl phosphorylation was reduced or undetectable and the kinase associated weakly, or not at all, with the TCR ζ chain. We propose that dampened TCR-triggered responses in CTCL are caused by suppression of an array of effector molecules required for coupling cell surface receptors to early and late signaling events.
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