Key Points

  • DLBCL cell lines exhibit chronic NFAT activation, which is independent of B-cell receptor-mediated signals.

  • Long-term treatment of ABC DLBCL with calcineurin inhibitors induces cytotoxicity and synergizes with BCL-2 and MCL-1 inhibition.


Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) represents the most common adult lymphoma and can be divided into 2 major molecular subtypes: the germinal center B-cell-like and the aggressive activated B-cell-like (ABC) DLBCL. Previous studies suggested that chronic B-cell receptor signaling and increased NF-κB activation contribute to ABC DLBCL survival. Here we show that the activity of the transcription factor NFAT is chronically elevated in both DLBCL subtypes. Surprisingly, NFAT activation is independent of B-cell receptor signaling, but mediated by an increased calcium flux and calcineurin-mediated dephosphorylation of NFAT. Intriguingly, although NFAT is activated in both DLBCL subtypes, long-term calcineurin inhibition with cyclosporin A or FK506, both clinically approved drugs, triggers potent cytotoxicity specifically in ABC DLBCL cells. The antitumor effects of calcineurin inhibitors are associated with the reduced expression of c-Jun, interleukin-6, and interleukin-10, which were identified as NFAT target genes that are particularly important for the survival of ABC DLBCL. Furthermore, calcineurin blockade synergized with BCL-2 and MCL-1 inhibitors in killing ABC DLBCL cells. Collectively, these findings identify constitutive NFAT signaling as a crucial functional driver of ABC DLBCL and highlight calcineurin inhibition as a novel strategy for the treatment of this aggressive lymphoma subtype.

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