Targeting antigen-independent proliferation in chronic lymphocytic leukemia through differential kinase inhibition

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The clinical success of B-cell receptor (BCR) signaling pathway inhibitors in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is attributed to inhibition of adhesion in and migration towards the lymph node. Proliferation of CLL cells is restricted to this protective niche, but the underlying mechanism(s) is/are not known. Treatment with BCR pathway inhibitors results in rapid reductions of total clone size, while CLL cell survival is not affected, which points towards inhibition of proliferation. In vitro, BCR stimulation does not induce proliferation of CLL, but triggering via Toll-like receptor, tumor necrosis factor or cytokine receptors does. Here, we investigated the effects of clinically applied inhibitors that target BCR signaling, in the context of proliferation triggered either via CD40L/IL-21 or after CpG stimulation. CD40L/IL-21-induced proliferation could be inhibited by idelalisib and ibrutinib. We demonstrate this was due to blockade of CD40L-induced ERK-signaling. Targeting JAKs, but not SYK, blocked CD40L/IL-21-induced proliferation. In contrast, PI3K, BTK as well as SYK inhibition prevented CpG-induced proliferation. Knockdown experiments showed that CD40L/IL-21 did not co-opt upstream BCR components such as CD79A, in contrast to CpG-induced proliferation. Our data indicate that currently applied BTK/PI3K inhibitors target antigen-independent proliferation in CLL, and suggest that targeting of JAK and/or SYK might be clinically useful.

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