Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is caused by a constitutively active BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) imatinib and its derivatives represent a breakthrough for CML therapy, but the use of TKI alone is ineffective for many CML patients. CD69, an early activation marker of lymphocytes, participates in immune and inflammatory responses. Previous studies revealed that BCR-ABL upregulates CD69 expression; however, the role of CD69 in CML cells is unknown. Here, we demonstrate that BCR-ABL induced CD69 promoter activity and mRNA and protein expression via the NF-κB pathway. CD69 knockdown partially increased apoptosis and expression of erythroid differentiation markers, α-globin, ζ-globin, and glycophorin A, and increased imatinib sensitivity in K562 and KU812 CML cells. Gene microarray analysis and quantitative real-time PCR verified that CD24, an oncogenic gene, downregulated in K562 cells upon CD69 knockdown. CD69 overexpression increased, whereas CD69 knockdown inhibited CD24 promoter activity and mRNA and protein levels. CD24 knockdown also partially increased apoptosis, erythroid differentiation, and imatinib sensitivity in K562 cells, whereas its overexpression inhibited the effects of CD69 knockdown on apoptosis, erythroid differentiation, and imatinib sensitivity in K562 cells. Imatinib-induced apoptosis and erythroid differentiation were also inhibited by CD69 or CD24 overexpression in BCR-ABL-expressing CML cell lines and CD34+ cells. Taken together, CD24 is a downstream effector of CD69. CD69 and CD24 partially inhibit apoptosis and erythroid differentiation in CML cells; thus, they may be potential targets to increase imatinib sensitivity.
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