Therapeutic Targeting of the Leukaemia Microenvironment

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jun 26;22(13):6888. doi: 10.3390/ijms22136888.


In recent decades, the conduct of uniform prospective clinical trials has led to improved remission rates and survival for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. However, high-risk patients continue to have inferior outcomes, where chemoresistance and relapse are common due to the survival mechanisms utilised by leukaemic cells. One such mechanism is through hijacking of the bone marrow microenvironment, where healthy haematopoietic machinery is transformed or remodelled into a hiding ground or "sanctuary" where leukaemic cells can escape chemotherapy-induced cytotoxicity. The bone marrow microenvironment, which consists of endosteal and vascular niches, can support leukaemogenesis through intercellular "crosstalk" with niche cells, including mesenchymal stem cells, endothelial cells, osteoblasts, and osteoclasts. Here, we summarise the regulatory mechanisms associated with leukaemia-bone marrow niche interaction and provide a comprehensive review of the key therapeutics that target CXCL12/CXCR4, Notch, Wnt/b-catenin, and hypoxia-related signalling pathways within the leukaemic niches and agents involved in remodelling of niche bone and vasculature. From a therapeutic perspective, targeting these cellular interactions is an exciting novel strategy for enhancing treatment efficacy, and further clinical application has significant potential to improve the outcome of patients with leukaemia.

Keywords: bone marrow microenvironment; endothelial cell; leukaemia; mesenchymal stem cell; osteoblast; osteoclast; therapeutic agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bone Marrow Cells / drug effects
  • Bone Marrow Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia / pathology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents