Casein kinase 2 controls the survival of normal thymic and leukemic γδ T cells via promotion of AKT signaling

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The thymus is the major site for normal and leukemic T-cell development. The dissection of the molecular determinants of T-cell survival and differentiation is paramount for the manipulation of healthy or transformed T cells in cancer (immuno)therapy. Casein kinase 2 (CK2) is a serine/threonine protein kinase whose anti-apoptotic functions have been described in various hematological and solid tumors. Here we disclose an unanticipated role of CK2 in healthy human thymocytes that is selective to the γδ T-cell lineage. γδ thymocytes display higher (and T-cell receptor inducible) CK2 activity than their αβ counterparts, and are strikingly sensitive to death upon CK2 inhibition. Mechanistically, we show that CK2 regulates the pro-survival AKT signaling pathway in γδ thymocytes and, importantly, also in γδ T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) cells. When compared with healthy thymocytes or leukemic αβ T cells, γδ T-ALL cells show upregulated CK2 activity, potentiated by CD27 costimulation, and enhanced apoptosis upon CK2 blockade using the chemical inhibitor CX-4945. Critically, this results in inhibition of tumor growth in a xenograft model of human γδ T-ALL. These data identify CK2 as a novel survival determinant of both healthy and leukemic γδ T cells, and may thus greatly impact their therapeutic manipulation.

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