Molecular pathogenesis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Curr Mol Med. 2006 Sep;6(6):665-75. doi: 10.2174/156652406778195008.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is unique among malignancies since it represents an accumulation of B-lymphocytes resistant to apoptosis. Several factors are thought to confer this unusual feature to a CLL B-cell. Misbalance between cytoplasmic pro-survival and pro-death molecules, such as Bcl-2, Mcl-1 and alike, appears to be one of the key factors defining B-cell longevity. Autocrine pathways, such as vascular endothelial growth factor-receptor pathway, also contribute to survival. The role of B-cell receptor (BCR) is less straightforward. In the last decade it became clear that CLL does not constitute a uniform disease, but, based on the prevalence of mutations in the BCR heavy chain (IgVH), can be classified into two distinct subgroups. Several molecular markers correlate with IgVH mutations. Some of them, like zeta-chain associated protein kinase, are also involved in BCR signaling and influence cell cycle. Yet the primary pathogenic event leading to increased proliferation and survival in CLL is difficult to ascertain. Molecules involved in BCR signaling pathways and cytoplasmic pro-survival players probably act in concert to confer resistance to apoptosis. In this respect, the role of the B-CLL environment, which includes nurse-like cells and T-cells, cannot be underestimated. Nurse-like cells provide stimuli necessary for perpetuation of life in CLL. On the other hand, abnormal T-cell function, whether it is excessive immunosuppression delivered by regulatory T-cells or insufficient anti-tumor immunity rendered by T-helpers, allows malignant CLL cells to go unnoticed by the cellular immune system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / genetics*
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • B-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Survival
  • Chromosome Aberrations*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / diagnosis
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / genetics*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Prognosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcr / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcr / physiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • BCR protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcr