Toll-like receptor agonists in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Leukemia. 2007 Jan;21(1):53-60. doi: 10.1038/sj.leu.2404456. Epub 2006 Oct 26.


Advances in our understanding of the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) have led to the identification of several agonists that are suitable for clinical development. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) may be especially amenable to TLR agonists because it is an immunologically susceptible tumor with strong expression of several TLRs, particularly TLR-7 and TLR-9. TLR agonists may indirectly clear CLL cells by enhancing the activity of natural killer and tumor-reactive T cells, or by altering the tumor microenvironment and inhibiting angiogenesis. However, signaling pathways can be activated directly in CLL cells by TLR-7 and TLR-9 agonists, leading to the production of cytokines and costimulatory molecules in a manner that is dependent on the underlying cytogenetic abnormalities, but rendering the tumor cells more sensitive to killing by cytotoxic T cells, immunotoxins and some chemotherapeutic drugs. Imidazoquinolines are TLR-7 agonists with strong local activity against CLL, and phase I trials of systemically administered imidazoquinolines (and also cytosine-phosphate-guanosine oligonucleotides that are TLR-9 agonists) are currently ongoing at different centers. The potential importance of these TLR agonists in the treatment of CLL is suggested by their ability to sensitize tumor cells to cytotoxic agents, and their future probably lies in combination with radiotherapies, chemotherapies, monoclonal antibodies and cancer vaccines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / immunology
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / metabolism
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / pathology
  • Oligonucleotides / pharmacology
  • Oligonucleotides / therapeutic use
  • Quinolones / pharmacology
  • Quinolones / therapeutic use
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7 / agonists*
  • Toll-Like Receptor 9 / agonists*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Oligonucleotides
  • Quinolones
  • Toll-Like Receptor 7
  • Toll-Like Receptor 9