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Blood. 2011 Jan 13;117(2):563-74. doi: 10.1182/blood-2010-05-284984. Epub 2010 Oct 12.

The lymph node microenvironment promotes B-cell receptor signaling, NF-kappaB activation, and tumor proliferation in chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

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  • 1National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health , Bethesda, MD, USA.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), an incurable malignancy of mature B lymphocytes, involves blood, bone marrow, and secondary lymphoid organs such as the lymph nodes (LN). A role of the tissue microenvironment in the pathogenesis of CLL is hypothesized based on in vitro observations, but its contribution in vivo remains ill-defined. To elucidate the effects of tumor-host interactions in vivo, we purified tumor cells from 24 treatment-naive patients. Samples were obtained concurrently from blood, bone marrow, and/or LN and analyzed by gene expression profiling. We identified the LN as a key site in CLL pathogenesis. CLL cells in the LN showed up-regulation of gene signatures, indicating B-cell receptor (BCR) and nuclear factor-κB activation. Consistent with antigen-dependent BCR signaling and canonical nuclear factor-κB activation, we detected phosphorylation of SYK and IκBα, respectively. Expression of BCR target genes was stronger in clinically more aggressive CLL, indicating more effective BCR signaling in this subtype in vivo. Tumor proliferation, quantified by the expression of the E2F and c-MYC target genes and verified with Ki67 staining by flow cytometry, was highest in the LN and was correlated with clinical disease progression. These data identify the disruption of tumor microenvironment interactions and the inhibition of BCR signaling as promising therapeutic strategies in CLL. This study is registered at as NCT00019370.

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