AbstractThe inflammatory cytokine Stem Cell Factor (SCF, ligand of c-kit receptor) has been implicated as a pro-oncogenic driver and an adverse prognosticator in several human cancers. Increased SCF levels have recently been reported in a small series of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), however its precise role in CLL pathophysiology remains elusive. In this study, CLL cells were found to predominantly express the membrane isoform of SCF that is known to elicit a more robust activation of the c-kit receptor. SCF was significantly overexpressed in CLL cells compared to healthy tonsillar B cells whilst it correlated with adverse-prognostic biomarkers, shorter time-to-first treatment and shorter overall survival. Activation of immune receptors and long-term cell-cell interactions with the mesenchymal stroma led to an elevation of SCF primarily in adverse-prognostic CLL cases. On the contrary, suppression of oxidative stress and the BTK inhibitor Ibrutinib negated SCF levels. Interestingly, SCF significantly correlated with mitochondrial dynamics and HIF-1α which have previously been linked with clinical aggressiveness in CLL. SCF was able to elicit direct biological effects in CLL cells affecting redox homeostasis and cell proliferation. Overall, the aberrantly expressed SCF in CLL cells emerges as a key response regulator to microenvironmental stimuli whilst correlating with poor prognosis. On these grounds, specific targeting of this inflammatory molecule could serve as a novel therapeutic approach in CLL.
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Ferrata Storti Foundation, Pavia, Italy
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