Background: B cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (BCP-ALL) is the most common paediatric cancer. BCP-ALL blasts typically retain wild type p53, and are therefore assumed to rely on indirect measures to suppress transformation-induced p53 activity. We have recently demonstrated that the second messenger cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) through activation of protein kinase A (PKA) has the ability to inhibit DNA damage-induced p53 accumulation and thereby promote survival of the leukaemic blasts. Development of BCP-ALL in the bone marrow (BM) is supported by resident BM-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). MSCs are known to produce prostaglandin E(2) (PGE(2)) which upon binding to its receptors is able to elicit a cAMP response in target cells. We hypothesized that PGE(2) produced by stromal cells in the BM microenvironment could stimulate cAMP production and PKA activation in BCP-ALL cells, thereby suppressing p53 accumulation and promoting survival of the malignant cells.
Methods: Primary BCP-ALL cells isolated from BM aspirates at diagnosis were cocultivated with BM-derived MSCs, and effects on DNA damage-induced p53 accumulation and cell death were monitored by SDS-PAGE/immunoblotting and flow cytometry-based methods, respectively. Effects of intervention of signalling along the PGE(2)-cAMP-PKA axis were assessed by inhibition of PGE(2) production or PKA activity. Statistical significance was tested by Wilcoxon signed-rank test or paired samples t test.
Results: We demonstrate that BM-derived MSCs produce PGE(2) and protect primary BCP-ALL cells from p53 accumulation and apoptotic cell death. The MSC-mediated protection of DNA damage-mediated cell death is reversible upon inhibition of PGE(2) synthesis or PKA activity. Furthermore our results indicate differences in the sensitivity to variations in p53 levels between common cytogenetic subgroups of BCP-ALL.
Conclusions: Our findings support our hypothesis that BM-derived PGE(2), through activation of cAMP-PKA signalling in BCP-ALL blasts, can inhibit the tumour suppressive activity of wild type p53, thereby promoting leukaemogenesis and protecting against therapy-induced leukaemic cell death. These novel findings identify the PGE(2)-cAMP-PKA signalling pathway as a possible target for pharmacological intervention with potential relevance for treatment of BCP-ALL.