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Int J Cancer. 2010 Jan 15;126(2):337-49. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24733.

Down regulation of membrane-bound Neu3 constitutes a new potential marker for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia and induces apoptosis suppression of neoplastic cells.

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Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata, India.


Membrane-linked sialidase Neu3 is a key enzyme for the extralysosomal catabolism of gangliosides. In this respect, it regulates pivotal cell surface events, including trans-membrane signaling, and plays an essential role in carcinogenesis. In this report, we demonstrated that acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), lymphoblasts (primary cells from patients and cell lines) are characterized by a marked down-regulation of Neu3 in terms of both gene expression (-30 to 40%) and enzymatic activity toward ganglioside GD1a (-25.6 to 30.6%), when compared with cells from healthy controls. Induced overexpression of Neu3 in the ALL-cell line, MOLT-4, led to a significant increase of ceramide (+66%) and to a parallel decrease of lactosylceramide (-55%). These events strongly guided lymphoblasts to apoptosis, as we assessed by the decrease in Bcl2/Bax ratio, the accumulation of Neu3 transfected cells in the sub G0-G1 phase of the cell cycle, the enhanced annexin-V positivity, the higher cleavage of procaspase-3. Therefore, the reduced expression of Neu3 in ALL could help lymphoblasts to survive, maintaining the cellular content of ceramide below a critical level. Interestingly, we found that Neu3 activity varied in relation to disease progression, increasing in clinical remission after chemotherapy, and decreasing again in patients that relapsed. In addition, a negative correlation was observed between Neu3 expression and the percentage of the ALL marker 9-OAcGD3 positive cells. Consequently, Neu3 could represent a new potent biomarker in childhood ALL, to assess the efficacy of therapeutic protocols and to rapidly identify an eventual relapse.

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