Chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells are active participants in microenvironmental cross-talk

Haematologica. 2017 Sep;102(9):1469-1476. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2016.142679. Epub 2017 Aug 3.


The importance of the tumor microenvironment in chronic lymphocytic leukemia is widely accepted. Nevertheless, the understanding of the complex interplay between the various types of bystander cells and chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells is incomplete. Numerous studies have indicated that bystander cells provide chronic lymphocytic leukemia-supportive functions, but it has also become clear that chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells actively engage in the formation of a supportive tumor microenvironment through several cross-talk mechanisms. In this review, we describe how chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells participate in this interplay by inducing migration and tumor-supportive differentiation of bystander cells. Furthermore, chronic lymphocytic leukemia-mediated alterations in the interactions between bystander cells are discussed. Upon bystander cell interaction, chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells secrete cytokines and chemokines such as migratory factors [chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 22 and chemokine (CC motif) ligand 2], which result in further recruitment of T cells but also of monocyte-derived cells. Within the tumor microenvironment, chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells induce differentiation towards a tumor-supportive M2 phenotype of monocyte-derived cells and suppress phagocytosis, but also induce increased numbers of supportive regulatory T cells. Like other tumor types, the differentiation of stromal cells towards supportive cancer-associated fibroblasts is critically dependent on chronic lymphocytic leukemia-derived factors such as exosomes and platelet-derived growth factor. Lastly, both chronic lymphocytic leukemia and bystander cells induce a tolerogenic tumor microenvironment; chronic lymphocytic leukemia-secreted cytokines, such as interleukin-10, suppress cytotoxic T-cell functions, while chronic lymphocytic leukemia-associated monocyte-derived cells contribute to suppression of T-cell function by producing the immune checkpoint factor, programmed cell death-ligand 1. Deeper understanding of the active involvement and cross-talk of chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells in shaping the tumor microenvironment may offer novel clues for designing therapeutic strategies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bystander Effect / immunology
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Cell Movement / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / immunology*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology*