Rituximab improves the outcome of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but does not completely eradicate residual B-cell populations in the microenvironment of the bone marrow and lymph nodes. Adhesion to stromal cells can protect B-cells from apoptosis induced by chemotherapy drugs [(cell adhesion-mediated drug resistance (CAM-DR)]. A similar mechanism of resistance to rituximab has not, to our knowledge, been described. We tested the hypothesis that the microenvironment protects malignant B-cells from rituximab-induced apoptosis, and that blocking these interactions with natalizumab, an antibody targeting VLA-4 (integrin alfa-4-beta-1/CD49d), can overcome this protection. VLA-4 is an adhesion molecule constitutively expressed on malignant B-cells and is important for pro-survival signalling in the bone marrow and lymph node microenvironment. The human bone marrow stromal cell line HS-5 was shown to strongly protect B-cell lymphoma cells from rituximab cytotoxicity, suggesting the existence of a stromal cell adhesion-mediated antibody resistance (CAM-AR) mechanism analogous to CAM-DR. Natalizumab decreased B-lymphocyte adherence to fibronectin by 75-95% and partially overcame stromal protection against rituximab and cytotoxic drugs. These pre-clinical findings suggest that the addition of stromal adhesion-disruptive drugs to rituximab-containing therapy could improve treatment efficacy.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.