ZAP-70 is essential to maintain a constitutive survival signal for CLL cells and is directly involved in the expression of CCL3 and CCL4.
Upon BCR activation, ZAP-70 increasingly forms complexes with ribosomes and promotes MYC expression and protein synthesis.
The expression of ZAP-70 in a subset of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients strongly correlates with a more aggressive clinical course, although the exact underlying mechanisms remain elusive. The ability of ZAP-70 to enhance B-cell receptor (BCR) signaling, independently of its kinase function, is considered to contribute. We used RNA-sequencing and proteomic analyses of primary cells differing only in their expression of ZAP-70 to further define how ZAP-70 increases the aggressiveness of CLL. We identified that ZAP-70 is directly required for cell survival in the absence of an overt BCR signal, which can compensate for ZAP-70 deficiency as an antiapoptotic signal. In addition, the expression of ZAP-70 regulates the transcription of factors regulating the recruitment and activation of T cells, such as CCL3, CCL4, and IL4I1. Quantitative mass spectrometry of double–cross-linked ZAP-70 complexes further demonstrated constitutive and direct protein-protein interactions between ZAP-70 and BCR-signaling components. Unexpectedly, ZAP-70 also binds to ribosomal proteins, which is not dependent on, but is further increased by, BCR stimulation. Importantly, decreased expression of ZAP-70 significantly reduced MYC expression and global protein synthesis, providing evidence that ZAP-70 contributes to translational dysregulation in CLL. In conclusion, ZAP-70 constitutively promotes cell survival, microenvironment interactions, and protein synthesis in CLL cells, likely to improve cellular fitness and to further drive disease progression.