Bone marrow stroma inhibits proliferation and apoptosis in leukemic cells through gap junction-mediated cell communication

Cell Death Differ. 2003 Sep;10(9):1101-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4401279.


Normal and leukemic blood cell progenitors depend upon the bone marrow (BM) stroma with which they communicate through soluble and membrane-anchored mediators, adhesive interactions and gap junctions (GJ). Regarding hematopoiesis, it is believed that it can be influenced by connexin expression, but the exact role of GJ in cell death and proliferation is not clear. Using flow cytometry, we monitored the division rate of leukemic cell lines, communicating and not communicating with stromal cell line through GJ. We found that GJ-coupled cells (i) did not proliferate; (ii) were kept in G0; and (iii) were protected from drug-induced apoptosis when compared to either total or uncoupled cell population. We conclude that GJ coupling between stroma and leukemic lymphoblasts prevents proliferation, keeping cells in a quiescent state, thus increasing their resistance to antimitotic drugs. Since GJ are particularly abundant in the sub-endosteal environment, which harbors blood stem cells, we also asked which cells within the normal human BM communicate with the stroma. Using a primary BM stroma cell culture, our results show that 80% of CD34+ progenitors communicate through GJ. We propose that blood cell progenitors might be retained in the low-cycling state by GJ-mediated communication with the hematopoietic stroma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD34 / analysis
  • Apoptosis*
  • Bone Marrow Cells / cytology*
  • Cell Communication*
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Gap Junctions / physiology*
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / chemistry
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / pathology*
  • Methotrexate / toxicity
  • Resting Phase, Cell Cycle
  • Stromal Cells / cytology
  • Stromal Cells / physiology*
  • Stromal Cells / ultrastructure


  • Antigens, CD34
  • Methotrexate