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Leukemia. 2006 Feb;20(2):272-9.

Alemtuzumab induces caspase-independent cell death in human chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells through a lipid raft-dependent mechanism.

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  • 1Division of Hematology-Oncology, Department of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


Alemtuzumab is a humanized IgG1 kappa antibody directed against CD52, a glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol linked cell-membrane protein of unknown function. Herein, we demonstrate that alemtuzumab promotes rapid death of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells in vitro, in a complement and accessory cell free system. Using minimal detergent solubilization of CLL membranes, we found that CD52 colocalizes with ganglioside GM-1, a marker of membrane rafts. Fluorescence microscopy revealed that upon crosslinking CD52 with alemtuzumab+anti-Fc IgG, large patches, and in many cases caps, enriched in CD52 and GM-1 formed upon the CLL cell plasma membrane. Depletion of membrane cholesterol or inhibition of actin polymerization significantly diminished the formation of alemtuzumab-induced caps and reduced alemtuzumab-mediated CLL cell death. We compared alemtuzumab-induced direct cytotoxicity, effector cell-mediated toxicity and complement-mediated cytotoxicity of CLL cells to normal T cells. The direct cytotoxicity and observed capping was significantly greater for CLL cells as compared to normal T cells. Cell-mediated and complement-mediated cytotoxicity did not significantly differ between the two cell types. In summary, our data support the hypothesis that alemtuzumab can initiate CLL cell death by crosslinking CD52-enriched lipid rafts. Furthermore, the differential direct cytotoxic effect suggests that CD52 directed antibodies could possibly be engineered to more specifically target CLL cells.

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