Purpose: Increased expression of the adhesion molecule CD44 has been associated with an unfavourable clinical outcome in lymphomas. We evaluated the prognostic value of soluble CD44 in B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (B-CLL) and analysed the source and regulation of CD44 secretion in B-CLL clones in vitro.
Patients and methods: Levels of soluble CD44 standard (sCD44s) and of the soluble variant isoform CD44v6 (sCD44v6) were analysed by enzyme linked immuno sorbent assay. Highly purified B-CLL cells (98% CD19 + CD3 - cells) were stimulated in vitro by different combinations of thioredoxin (Trx), Staphylococcus aureus Cowan strain 1 (SAC), IL-2, IL-4, IL-10, 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA) and by anti-CD40 mAbs presented on irradiated CD32L cells.
Results: Serum levels of sCD44s and of sCD44v6 are significantly elevated in B-CLL patients (n = 90) in comparison with normal persons (n = 44) (P < 0.001). Elevated levels of sCD44s and sCD44v6 are associated with an advanced disease as reflected by an extended lymph node involvement (P < 0.02), an advanced Binet (P < 0.03) and Rai stage (P < 0.04) and chemotherapy requirement (P < 0.02). High levels of sCD44s are associated with high leukocyte counts (P < 0.04) and increased sCD44v6 is significantly associated with splenomegaly (P < 0.002). In B-CLL sCD44s as well as sCD44v6 is shed from leukaemia cells as shown by in vitro cultures. Stimulation of B-CLL clones results in a proliferation-associated increased secretion of sCD44s (rho = 0.7; P = 0.0001) and of sCD44v6 (rho = 0.5; P = 0.005). B-CLL clones from advanced stage patients are characterised by an increased capacity for proliferation and CD44 production in comparison with early stage patients.
Conclusions: Both sCD44s and sCD44v6 represent a reliable prognostic marker in B-CLL and may be involved in the pathogenesis of B-CLL.