Constitutive NF-κB and JAK/STAT activation in HRS cells is caused by an autocrine feedback loop driven by secreted LTA.
LTA promotes expression of multiple cytokines, chemokines, receptors, and immune checkpoint ligands that are typical for HRS cells.
Persistent NF-κB activation is a hallmark of the malignant Hodgkin/Reed-Sternberg (HRS) cells in classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL). Genomic lesions, Epstein-Barr virus infection, soluble factors, and tumor–microenvironment interactions contribute to this activation. Here, in an unbiased approach to identify the cHL cell-secreted key factors for NF-κB activation, we have dissected the secretome of cultured cHL cells by chromatography and subsequent mass spectrometry. We identified lymphotoxin-α (LTA) as the causative factor for autocrine and paracrine activation of canonical and noncanonical NF-κB in cHL cell lines. In addition to inducing NF-κB, LTA promotes JAK2/STAT6 signaling. LTA and its receptor TNFRSF14 are transcriptionally activated by noncanonical NF-κB, creating a continuous feedback loop. Furthermore, LTA shapes the expression of cytokines, receptors, immune checkpoint ligands and adhesion molecules, including CSF2, CD40, PD-L1/PD-L2, and VCAM1. Comparison with single-cell gene-activity profiles of human hematopoietic cells showed that LTA induces genes restricted to the lymphoid lineage, as well as those largely restricted to the myeloid lineage. Thus, LTA sustains autocrine NF-κB activation, impacts activation of several signaling pathways, and drives expression of genes essential for microenvironmental interactions and lineage ambiguity. These data provide a robust rationale for targeting LTA as a treatment strategy for cHL patients.