The bone marrow (BM) microenvironment regulates acute myeloid leukemia (AML) initiation, proliferation, and chemotherapy resistance. Following cancer cell death, a growing body of evidence suggests an important role for remaining apoptotic debris in regulating the immunologic response to and growth of solid tumors. Here, we investigated the role of macrophage LC3-associated phagocytosis (LAP) within the BM microenvironment of AML. Depletion of BM macrophages (BMMs) increased AML growth in vivo. We show that LAP is the predominate method of BMM phagocytosis of dead and dying cells in the AML microenvironment. Targeted inhibition of LAP led to the accumulation of apoptotic cells (ACs) and apoptotic bodies (ABs), resulting in accelerated leukemia growth. Mechanistically, LAP of AML-derived ABs by BMMs resulted in stimulator of IFN genes (STING) pathway activation. We found that AML-derived mitochondrial damage-associated molecular patterns were processed by BMMs via LAP. Moreover, depletion of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in AML-derived ABs showed that it was this mtDNA that was responsible for the induction of STING signaling in BMMs. Phenotypically, we found that STING activation suppressed AML growth through a mechanism related to increased phagocytosis. In summary, we report that macrophage LAP of apoptotic debris in the AML BM microenvironment suppressed tumor growth.
Keywords: Autophagy; Hematology; Leukemias; Mitochondria; Oncology.