High expression of connective tissue growth factor accelerates dissemination of leukaemia

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To improve treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a better understanding of disease development is needed to tailor new therapies. Connective tissue growth factor (CTGF/CCN2) is highly expressed in leukaemia cells from the majority of paediatric patients with B-lineage ALL (pre-B ALL). CTGF is a matricellular protein and plays a role in aggressive cancers. Here we have genetically engineered leukaemia cells to modulate CTGF expression levels. Elevated CTGF levels accelerated disease dissemination and reduced survival in NOD/SCID mice. In vitro studies showed that CTGF protein induces stromal cell proliferation, promotes adhesion of leukaemia cells to stromal cells and leads to overexpression of genes associated with cell cycle and synthesis of extracellular matrix (ECM). Corresponding data from our leukaemia xenograft models demonstrated that CTGF leads to increased proliferation of non-leukaemia cells and deposition of ECM in the bone marrow. We document for the first time a functional role of CTGF in altering disease progression in a lymphoid malignancy. The findings provide support for targeting the bone marrow microenvironment in aggressive forms of leukaemia.

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