The role of calcium ions in the leukemic bone marrow microenvironment

  • Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow characterized by an uncontrolled proliferation and accumulation of abnormal white blood cells. Leukemia can be classified based on the course of the disease (acute or chronic) and the blood cell type involved (myeloid or lymphocytic), leading to four main subtypes: acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Leukemia represents 2.5% of all new cancer cases per year, and survival rates in some leukemias remain low at 40%. The bone marrow microenvironment (BMM) is a system within the bone marrow comprising cellular and acellular components, all of which play a major role in hematopoiesis, providing the physical space where hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) reside. The BMM interacts with HSCs, offering a “niche” for those cells and in case of leukemia, the BMM has a supportive role in disease maintenance and progression by supporting Leukemia stem cells (LSCs). One of the components of the BMM are calcium ions. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, a key component of bones and is released by parathyroid hormone (PTH) induced bone remodeling. Calcium ions play a role in the localization, engraftment and adhesion of normal HSC to extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins in the BMM via the calcium sensing receptor (CaSR), thereby maintaining normal hematopoiesis. In addition of a major regulator of calcium homeostasis, CaSR contribute to the development of different cancers, functioning as either tumor suppressor or oncogene, depending on the involved tissue. However, the role of CaSR and its associated pathways in the local BMM for the development of leukemia is poorly understood. We hypothesized that calcium ions released from bone, subject to a fine balance between osteoblasts and osteoclasts, and/or CaSR, contribute to development, progression and response to therapy. We have shown that the local calcium concentration forms a gradient in the bone marrow niche and in mice with CML is similarly low as in control mice, but significantly higher in mice suffering from BCR ABL1 driven B ALL or MLL AF9 driven AML. Similarly, the calcium concentration in the human BMM was found to be higher in AML than in other leukemias. Regarding the function of calcium in leukemia cells, we found that AML and CML cells respond differently to calcium exposure, with AML cells exhibiting regulation of cellular processes such as adhesion to the ECM protein fibronectin and migration toward CXCL 12, whereas CML cells remained mostly unaltered. Using genetic deletion or overexpression of CaSR in murine models of leukemia, we observed that CaSR acts as tumor suppressor in BCR-ABL1 driven CML and B ALL and as oncogene in AML. Focusing on AML, our data shows that deficiency of CaSR on LICs leads, on one hand to increased apoptosis, and on the other hand to reduced cell cycle, reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and DNA damage in vivo, which may explain the observed prolongation of survival of mice. Complementary, in vitro experiments demonstrated that cells overexpressing CaSR have a distinct, cancer promoting phenotype compared to wildtype cells. Overexpression of CaSR led to an increase in proliferation, cell cycle, ROS production, DNA damage and reduced apoptosis. We have identified CaSR mediated pathways in AML and shown that CaSR enhances leukemia progression by activating MAPK/ERK and Wnt β catenin signaling. In addition, the CaSR interacting protein filamin A (FLNA) was shown to contribute to aggressive disease in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, the mechanism underlying the role of CaSR in AML pathogenesis and possible regulation of LSCs was studied. Our findings demonstrated that CaSR ablation reduces myeloid progenitor function and proved that CaSR is required for maintenance of LSC pool by regulating its frequency and function. Further supporting the role of CaSR in LSC maintenance, genes associated with AML stemness and self renewal capacity were upregulated when CaSR was overexpressed and downregulated when CaSR was depleted. Given the role of CaSR in AML, the CaSR antagonist NPS 2143 was tested in vivo. The combination treatment of NPS 2143 with the standard of care, ara C, significantly reduced the tumor burden and prolonged the survival of mice with AML in syngeneic and xenotransplantation experiments. Based on the finding that CaSR functions as a tumor suppressor in CML, treatment of mice with the CaSR agonist cinacalcet in combination with imatinib prolonged survival of mice with CML compared to treatment with the mice given vehicle. Our results suggest that calcium ions stemming from the calcium-rich BMM via CaSR strongly and differentially influence leukemia progression. As an adjunct to existing treatment therapies, targeting of CaSR with specific pharmacologic antagonists may prolong survival of patients with AML.

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Author:Raquel Soares PereiraGND
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Referee:Rolf MarschalekORCiDGND, Daniela Sandra KrauseORCiDGND
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2022/10/13
Year of first Publication:2022
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2022/06/15
Release Date:2022/10/13
Page Number:189
Institutes:Biochemie, Chemie und Pharmazie
Dewey Decimal Classification:6 Technik, Medizin, angewandte Wissenschaften / 61 Medizin und Gesundheit / 610 Medizin und Gesundheit
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht