Key Points

  • In vivo depletion of myeloid subsets diminishes leukemia burden in multiple organs and prolongs survival in mouse models of T-ALL.

  • Human myeloid cells promote patient T-ALL cell survival, and elevated macrophage gene signatures correlate with worse patient prognosis.

Despite harboring mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressors that promote cancer growth, T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) cells require exogenous cells or signals to survive in culture. We previously reported that myeloid cells, particularly dendritic cells (DCs), from the thymic tumor microenvironment (TME) support the survival and proliferation of primary mouse T-ALL cells in vitro. Thus, we hypothesized that tumor-associated myeloid cells would support T-ALL in vivo. Consistent with this possibility, in vivo depletion of myeloid cells results in a significant reduction in leukemia burden in multiple organs in two distinct mouse models of T-ALL, and prolongs survival. The impact of the myeloid compartment on T-ALL growth is not dependent on suppression of anti-tumor T-cell responses. Instead, myeloid cells provide signals that directly support T-ALL cells. Transcriptional profiling, functional assays, and acute in vivo myeloid depletion experiments identify activation of IGF1R as a critical component of myeloid-mediated T-ALL growth and survival. We identify several myeloid subsets that have the capacity to directly support survival of T-ALL cells. Consistent with mouse models, myeloid cells derived from human peripheral blood monocytes activate IGF1R and directly support survival of primary patient T-ALL cells in vitro. Furthermore, enriched macrophage gene signatures in published clinical samples correlate with inferior outcomes for pediatric T-ALL patients. Collectively, these data reveal that tumor-associated myeloid cells provide signals critical for T-ALL growth in multiple organs in vivo and implicate tumor-associated myeloid cells and associated signals as potential therapeutic targets.

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