Haematologica 2018 01 9;103(1):136-147. Epub 2017 Nov 9.
Department of Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation, University Medical Center, Faculty of Medicine, University of Freiburg, Germany
Nuclear factor κ-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB) is known to play an important role in the pathogenesis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Several NF-κB inhibitors were shown to successfully induce apoptosis of CLL cells Since the microenvironment is known to be crucial for the survival of CLL cells, herein, we tested whether NF-κB inhibition may still induce apoptosis in these leukemic cells in the presence of protective stromal interaction. We used the specific NF-κB inhibitor dehydroxymethylepoxyquinomicin (DHMEQ). Microenvironmental support was mimicked by co-culturing CLL cells with bone marrow-derived stromal cell lines (HS-5 and M2-10B4). NF-κB inhibition by DHMEQ in CLL cells could be confirmed in both the monoculture and co-culture setting. In line with previous reports, NF-κB inhibition induced apoptosis in the monoculture setting by activating the intrinsic apoptotic pathway resulting in poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP)-cleavage; however, it was unable to induce apoptosis in leukemic cells co-cultured with stromal cells. Similarly, small interfering ribonucleic acid (siRNA)-mediated downregulation induced apoptosis of CLL cells cultured alone, but not in the presence of supportive stromal cells. B-cell activating factor (BAFF) was identified as a microenvironmental messenger potentially protecting the leukemic cells from NF-κB inhibition-induced apoptosis. Finally, we show improved sensitivity of stroma-supported CLL cells to NF-κB inhibition when combining the NF-κB inhibitor with the SYK inhibitor R406 or the Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor ibrutinib, agents known to inhibit the stroma-leukemia crosstalk. We conclude that NF-κB inhibitors are not promising as monotherapies in CLL, but may represent attractive therapeutic partners for ibrutinib and R406.