Leukemia-derived exosomes and cytokines pave the way for entry into the brain.
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Infiltration of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) blasts into the CNS remains as a major clinical problem, with high risk for chemotherapy-resistant relapse and treatment-related morbidity. Despite the common inclusion of CNS prophylaxis treatments in therapy regimens, there are significant gaps in understanding the mechanisms that mediate leukemia cell entry into the CNS as well as roles for resident cells in the brain. In this study, we employ a xenograft model of human B cell precursor (BCP)-ALL in immunocompromised mice. This model system recapitulates key pathological characteristics of leptomeningeal involvement seen in patients and provides insights into rare cases that involve parenchymal invasion. We examine the infiltration of engrafted leukemia blasts into brains of recipient mice and provide evidence that the interaction between blasts and brain resident cells causes aberrant activation of host cells in the brain microenvironment. BCP-ALL blasts also release multiple cytokines and exosomes containing IL-15 that bind and are internalized by astrocytes and brain vessel endothelial cells. Leukemic invasion is linked to production of VEGF-AA by astrocytes and disruption of the blood-brain-barrier (BBB) integrity. Knockdown of either IL-15 or IL-15Rα in the NALM6 cell line decreases CNS infiltration in engrafted mice. These results provide important insights into the multiple mechanisms by which lymphoblasts modulate the brain microenvironment to breach the BBB for metastatic invasion.©2019 Society for Leukocyte Biology.