Herbimycin A is one of the benzenoid ansamycin antibiotics isolated from a culture of Streptomyces species (Omura, S., A. Nakagawa, and N. Sadakane. 1979. Tetrahedron Lett. 1979: 4323-4326). Recent studies have shown that the antibiotic not only inhibits the phosphorylation of p60src in Rous sarcoma virus- (RSV) infected cells, but also reverses the cellular phenotypes acquired by transfection with tyrosine kinase oncogenes (Uehara, Y., M. Hori, T. Takeuchi, and H. Umezawa. 1985. Jpn. J. Cancer Res. 76:672-675; Uehara, Y., M. Hori, T. Takeuchi, and H. Umezawa. 1986. Mol. Cell. Biol. 6: 2198-2206; Uehara, Y., Y. Murakami, S. Mizuno, and S. Kawai. 1988. Virology. 164: 294-298). These studies and other evidence indicate that the antibiotic inhibits a reaction(s) closely associated with the function of cellular tyrosine kinases. We have found that herbimycin A is an effective inducing agent capable of triggering differentiation in two typical mouse in vitro differentiation systems, which have been considered to be quite different in their mechanism of induction: endoderm differentiation of embryonal carcinoma (F9) cells and terminal erythroid differentiation of erythroleukemia (MEL) cells. The results suggest that there is a common step in the intracellular differentiation cascade which is, directly or indirectly, associated with phosphorylation at specific (tyrosine) residues of cellular proteins. The significance of this finding with respect to the molecular mechanism of in vitro differentiation is discussed.

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