Human Renal Normal, Tumoral, and Cancer Stem Cells Express Membrane-Bound Interleukin-15 Isoforms Displaying Different Functions

Neoplasia. 2015 Jun;17(6):509-17. doi: 10.1016/j.neo.2015.06.002.


Intrarenal interleukin-15 (IL-15) participates to renal pathophysiology, but the role of its different membrane-bound isoforms remains to be elucidated. In this study, we reassess the biology of membrane-bound IL-15 (mb-IL-15) isoforms by comparing primary cultures of human renal proximal tubular epithelial cells (RPTEC) to peritumoral (ptumTEC), tumoral (RCC), and cancer stem cells (CSC/CD105(+)). RPTEC express a 14 to 16 kDa mb-IL-15, whose existence has been assumed but never formally demonstrated and likely represents the isoform anchored at the cell membrane through the IL-15 receptor α (IL-15Rα) chain, because it is sensitive to acidic treatment and is not competent to deliver a reverse signal. By contrast, ptumTEC, RCC, and CSC express a novel N-hyperglycosylated, short-lived transmembrane mb-IL-15 (tmb-IL-15) isoform around 27 kDa, resistant to acidic shock, delivering a reverse signal in response to its soluble receptor (sIL-15Rα). This reverse signal triggers the down-regulation of the tumor suppressor gene E-cadherin in ptumTEC and RCC but not in CSC/CD105(+), where it promotes survival. Indeed, through the AKT pathway, tmb-IL-15 protects CSC/CD105(+) from non-programmed cell death induced by serum starvation. Finally, both mb-IL-15 and tmb-IL-15 are sensitive to metalloproteases, and the cleaved tmb-IL-15 (25 kDa) displays a powerful anti-apoptotic effect on human hematopoietic cells. Overall, our data indicate that both mb-IL-15 and tmb-IL-15 isoforms play a complex role in renal pathophysiology downregulating E-cadherin and favoring cell survival. Moreover, "apparently normal" ptumTEC cells, sharing different properties with RCC, could contribute to organize an enlarged peritumoral "preneoplastic" environment committed to favor tumor progression.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-15 / metabolism*
  • Kidney Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / metabolism
  • Kidney Tubules, Proximal / pathology*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Interleukin-15
  • Protein Isoforms