The functional in vitro response to CD40 ligation reflects a different clinical outcome in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Leukemia. 2011 Nov;25(11):1760-7. doi: 10.1038/leu.2011.149. Epub 2011 Jun 28.


Malignant B lymphocytes from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients maintain the capacity to respond to CD40 ligation, among other microenvironmental stimuli. In this study, we show that (i) leukemic CLL cells stimulated with the soluble form of CD40L in vitro show differential responses in terms of upregulation of surface markers (CD95 and CD80) and induction of chemokines (CCL22 and CCL17) expression/secretion, and that (ii) these changes are mirrored by a distinct activation of intracellular signalling pathways including increase in IKKalpha/beta phosphorylation and upregulation of antiapoptotic proteins (BCL-2 and MCL-1). CLL patients can then be segregated into two distinct functional subsets. We defined the responsive subset of cases CD40L dependent, considering the capacity to respond as a sign of persistent need of this stimulation for the leukemic expansion. Conversely, we named the unresponsive cases CD40L independent, considering them less dependent on this microenvironmental signal, presumably because of a higher autonomous proliferative and survival potential. Importantly, we report that (iii) the two functional subsets show an opposite clinical outcome, with CD40L-independent cases having a shorter time to progression. This indicates that the functional differences observed in vitro may reflect a different leukemic potential in vivo likely responsible for a distinct clinical course.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Blotting, Western
  • CD40 Ligand / immunology*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / immunology
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Treatment Outcome


  • CD40 Ligand