During the past few years, a major focus of leukemia research has centered on tyrosine kinases as potential therapeutic targets. This is due in large part to the success of imatinib mesylate (STI571, Gleevec), which has proven effective as a therapy for chronic myeloid leukemias bearing the t(9;22) encoding the BCR-ABL kinase. It has become increasingly evident that mutations producing constitutively active tyrosine kinases play a role in leukemogenesis. Another kinase that has drawn significant attention is the FMS-like tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3). FLT3 is expressed in most childhood acute leukemias. Select genetic subgroups possess particularly high-level expression, with a significant percentage therein harboring activating mutations. In this review we will discuss FLT3 as a potential therapeutic target in childhood acute leukemias. We will highlight the role of FLT3 in hematopoiesis, and how when activated, it may play a role in the development of acute myeloid or acute lymphoblastic leukemia. We will examine the successes in elucidating FLT3 function in acute leukemias, highlight current FLT3 targeted therapeutics, and discuss how FLT3 inhibitors might be used in combination therapies in the future.
Keywords: BCR-ABL kinase, hematopoietic stem cells, Internal Tandem Duplication, STAT-5, CEP-701, leukemia stem cells
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