Haematologica 2012 Feb 11;97(2):219-26. Epub 2011 Oct 11.
Ludwig Boltzmann Cluster Oncology, Vienna, Austria.
Background: CD33 is a well-known stem cell target in acute myeloid leukemia. So far, however, little is known about expression of CD33 on leukemic stem cells in chronic leukemias.
Design And Methods: We analyzed expression of CD33 in leukemic progenitors in chronic myeloid leukemia by multi-color flow cytometry and quantitative polymerase chain reaction. In addition, the effects of a CD33-targeting drug, gemtuzumab/ozogamicin, were examined.
Results: As assessed by flow cytometry, stem cell-enriched CD34(+)/CD38(-)/CD123(+) leukemic cells expressed significantly higher levels of CD33 compared to normal CD34(+)/CD38(-) stem cells. Moreover, highly enriched leukemic CD34(+)/CD38(-) cells (>98% purity) displayed higher levels of CD33 mRNA. In chronic phase patients, CD33 was found to be expressed invariably on most or all stem cells, whereas in accelerated or blast phase of the disease, the levels of CD33 on stem cells varied from donor to donor. The MDR1 antigen, supposedly involved in resistance against ozogamicin, was not detectable on leukemic CD34(+)/CD38(-) cells. Correspondingly, gemtuzumab/ozogamicin produced growth inhibition in leukemic progenitor cells in all patients tested. The effects of gemtuzumab/ozogamicin were dose-dependent, occurred at low concentrations, and were accompanied by apoptosis in suspension culture. Moreover, the drug was found to inhibit growth of leukemic cells in a colony assay and long-term culture-initiating cell assay. Finally, gemtuzumab/ozogamicin was found to synergize with nilotinib and bosutinib in inducing growth inhibition in leukemic cells.
Conclusions: CD33 is expressed abundantly on immature CD34(+)/CD38(-) stem cells and may serve as a stem cell target in chronic myeloid leukemia.