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Blood. 2010 Jan 21;115(3):570-80. doi: 10.1182/blood-2009-08-239996. Epub 2009 Nov 20.

Novel IL-21 signaling pathway up-regulates c-Myc and induces apoptosis of diffuse large B-cell lymphomas.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, University of Miami, FL, USA.


Interleukin-21 (IL-21), a member of the IL-2 cytokine family, has diverse regulatory effects on natural killer (NK), T, and B cells. In contrast to other cytokines that are usually immunostimulatory, IL-21 can induce apoptosis of murine B cells at specific activation-differentiation stages. This effect may be used for treatment of B-cell malignancies. Herein we report that diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) cell lines exhibit widespread expression of the IL-21 receptor (IL-21R) and that IL-21 stimulation leads to cell-cycle arrest and caspase-dependent apoptosis. IL-21 also induces apoptosis in de novo DLBCL primary tumors but does not affect viability of human healthy B cells. Furthermore, IL-21 promotes tumor regression and prolongs survival of mice harboring xenograft DLBCL tumors. The antilymphoma effects of this cytokine are dependent on a mechanism involving IL-21-activated signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) up-regulating expression of c-Myc. This up-regulation promotes a decrease in expression of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 and Bcl-X(L) proteins triggering cell death. Our results represent one of the first examples in which the STAT3-c-Myc signaling pathway, which can promote survival and oncogenesis, can induce apoptosis in neoplastic cells. Moreover, based on IL-21's potency in vitro and in animal models, our findings indicate that this cytokine should be examined in clinical studies of DLBCL.

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