Lenalidomide Induces Interleukin-21 Production by T Cells and Enhances IL21-Mediated Cytotoxicity in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia B Cells

Cancer Immunol Res. 2016 Aug;4(8):698-707. doi: 10.1158/2326-6066.CIR-15-0291. Epub 2016 Jun 10.


The immunomodulatory drug lenalidomide has demonstrated efficacy in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), despite a lack of direct cytotoxic effects in vitro The mechanism of lenalidomide efficacy in vivo is thought to occur via a combination of enhanced immune activity and an alteration of tumor cell-microenvironment interactions. We demonstrate in whole blood from patients with CLL that lenalidomide significantly depletes malignant B cells. Lenalidomide also induced production of interleukin-21 (IL21) and its mRNA in T cells from patients with CLL. In addition, lenalidomide enhanced upregulation of functional IL21 receptor (IL21R) on the cell surface and increased receptor mRNA in vitro The in vitro combination of IL21 and lenalidomide enhanced IL21-mediated cytotoxicity toward CLL cells through a variety of mechanisms. We show association of cell death with upregulation of Bid by IL21, enhanced upregulation of Bid by the combination therapy, and diminished Lck and downstream BCR signaling activation of Syk and PLCG2. Collectively, we demonstrated an immune cell-tumor cell interaction through lenalidomide-mediated induction of IL21 and IL21R, with enhanced IL21-mediated cytotoxicity, which provides justification for this combination in clinical trials for patients with CLL. Cancer Immunol Res; 4(8); 698-707. ©2016 AACR.

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / drug effects*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology
  • Interleukins / metabolism*
  • Interleukins / pharmacology
  • Lenalidomide
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / genetics
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / immunology*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / metabolism*
  • Lymphocyte Specific Protein Tyrosine Kinase p56(lck) / metabolism
  • Phospholipase C gamma / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Receptors, Interleukin-21 / metabolism
  • Syk Kinase / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Thalidomide / analogs & derivatives*
  • Thalidomide / pharmacology


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Interleukins
  • Receptors, Interleukin-21
  • Thalidomide
  • Lymphocyte Specific Protein Tyrosine Kinase p56(lck)
  • Syk Kinase
  • Phospholipase C gamma
  • Lenalidomide
  • interleukin-21