NFAT2 is a highly phosphorylated transcription factor which regulates developmental and activation programs in diverse cell types. We and others have previously described a significant overexpression of NFAT2 in CLL cells as compared to physiological B cells. Three major isoforms of NFAT2 with different regulatory properties have been described (700aa short isoform, 800aa intermediate isoform, 900 aa long isoform). Here, we analyzed the role of different NFAT2 transcripts in CLL with respect to disease phenotype and cell proliferation.

We investigated primary samples from CLL patients (n=30) for their expression profile of different NFAT2 isoforms using RT-PCR. Applying an shRNA approach, we generated stable knock-down cells of the CLL cell line MEC-1 for the long and intermediate isoforms and for the entire NFAT2 gene resulting in the complete ablation of all isoforms. The proliferation properties of the different MEC-1 cell lines was subsequently assessed in xeno-transplant experiments into NSG mice.

While physiological B cells express comparable levels of the short and intermediate/long isoforms, we could detect a five fold overexpression of the intermediate/long isoforms in primary CLL samples. To further analyze the differential regulation of the different NFAT2 transcripts on tumor cell proliferation and cell cycle regulation, we injected NSG mice with MEC-1 cells with intact NFAT2 (n=6), MEC-1 cells with a knock-down of the intermediate and long isoforms (n=6) and MEC-1 cells with a complete NFAT2 knock-down (n=6). MEC-1 cells with selective ablation of the intermediate and long NFAT2 isoforms grew significantly faster in NSG mice than MEC-1 cells with intact NFAT2 expression or MEC-1 cells with a complete NFAT2 knock-down. MEC-1 cells selectively lacking the intermediate and long isoforms led to accelerated tumor proliferation upon subcutaneous injection. Cell cycle analysis as assessed by flow cytometry showed a significantly increased number of cells in the G1/S-Phase for the group without expression of the short isoform, while the group with complete NFAT knock-down exhibited a compromised growth pattern as compared to wild-type MEC-1 cells.

In summary, our data demonstrate that genetic loss of the intermediate and long isoforms of NFAT2 leads to CLL acceleration


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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