Malignant cells infiltrating the bone marrow (BM) interfere with normal cellular behaviour of supporting cells, thereby creating a malignant niche. We found that CXCR4-receptor expression was increased in paediatric precursor B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (BCP-ALL) cells compared with normal mononuclear haematopoietic cells (P < 0·0001). Furthermore, high CXCR4-expression correlated with an unfavourable outcome in BCP-ALL (5-year cumulative incidence of relapse ± standard error: 38·4% ± 6·9% in CXCR4-high versus 12% ± 4·6% in CXCR4-low expressing cases, P < 0·0001). Interestingly, BM levels of the CXCR4-ligand (CXCL12) were 2·7-fold lower (P = 0·005) in diagnostic BCP-ALL samples compared with non-leukaemic controls. Induction chemotherapy restored CXCL12 levels to normal. Blocking the CXCR4-receptor with Plerixafor showed that the lower CXCL12 serum levels at diagnosis could not be explained by consumption by the leukaemic cells, nor did we observe an altered CXCL12-production capacity of BM-mesenchymal stromal cells (BM-MSC) at this time-point. We rather observed that a very high density of leukaemic cells negatively affected CXCL12-production by the BM-MSC while stimulating the secretion levels of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF). These results suggest that highly proliferative leukaemic cells are able to down-regulate secretion of cytokines involved in homing (CXCL12), while simultaneously up-regulating those involved in haematopoietic mobilization (G-CSF). Therefore, interference with the CXCR4/CXCL12 axis may be an effective way to mobilize BCP-ALL cells.

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British Journal of Haematology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

van den Berk, L.C.J, van der Veer, A, Willemse, M.E, Theeuwes, J.J.M, Luijendijk, M.W.J, Tong, W.H, … den Boer, M.L. (2014). Disturbed CXCR4/CXCL12 axis in paediatric precursor B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. British Journal of Haematology, 166(2), 240–249. doi:10.1111/bjh.12883