Stromal cells are essential components of the bone marrow (BM) microenvironment that regulate and support the survival of different tumors, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In this study, we investigated the role of Notch signaling in the promotion of survival and chemoresistance of human CLL cells in coculture with human BM-mesenchymal stromal cells (hBM-MSCs) of both autologous and allogeneic origin. The presence of BM-MSCs rescued CLL cells from apoptosis both spontaneously and following induction with various drugs, including Fludarabine, Cyclophosphamide, Bendamustine, Prednisone and Hydrocortisone. The treatment with a combination of anti-Notch-1, Notch-2 and Notch-4 antibodies or γ-secretase inhibitor XII (GSI XII) reverted this protective effect by day 3, even in presence of the above-mentioned drugs. Overall, our findings show that stromal cell-mediated Notch-1, Notch-2 and Notch-4 signaling has a role in CLL survival and resistance to chemotherapy. Therefore, its blocking could be an additional tool to overcome drug resistance and improve the therapeutic strategies for CLL.
Keywords: CLL; Notch signaling; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; drug resistance; hBM-MSCs; human bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells.