Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is characterized by underexpression of the intracellular signaling molecule RhoH. Reconstitution of RhoH expression limits HCL pathogenesis in a mouse model, indicating this could represent a new therapeutic strategy. However, while RhoH reconstitution is theoretically possible as a therapy, it is technically immensely challenging as an appropriately functional RhoH protein needs to be specifically targeted. Because of this problem, we sought to identify druggable proteins on the HCL surface that were dependent upon RhoH underexpression. One such protein was identified as CD38. Analysis of 51 HCL patients demonstrated that 18 were CD38-positive. Interrogation of the clinical record of 23 relapsed HCL patients demonstrated those that were CD38-positive had a mean time to salvage therapy 71 months shorter than patients who were CD38-negative. Knockout of the CD38 gene in HCL cells increased apoptosis, inhibited adherence to endothelial monolayers, and compromised ability to produce tumors in vivo. Furthermore, an anti-CD38 antibody proved effective against pre-existing HCL tumors. Taken together, our data indicate that CD38 expression in HCL drives poor prognosis by promoting survival and heterotypic adhesion. Our data also indicate that CD38-positive HCL patients might benefit from treatments based on CD38 targeting.
©2015 American Association for Cancer Research.