Abstract

The Flt3 receptor tyrosine kinase (Flt3) is expressed on primitive normal and transformed hematopoietic cells and Flt3 ligand (FL) facilitates hematopoietic stem cell mobilization in vivo. The CXC chemokine SDF-1α(CXCL12) attracts primitive hematopoietic cells to the bone marrow microenvironment while disruption of interaction between SDF-1α and its receptor CXCR4 within bone marrow may facilitate their mobilization to the peripheral circulation. We have previously shown that Flt3 ligand has chemokinetic activity and synergistically increases migration of CD34+ cells and Ba/F3-Flt3 cells to SDF-1α in short-term migration assays; this was associated with synergistic phosphorylation of MAPKp42/p44, CREB and Akt. Consistent with these findings, over-expression of constitutively active ITD (internal tandem duplication) Flt3 found in patients with AML dramatically increased migration to SDF-1α in Ba/F3 cells. Since FL can induce mobilization of hematopoietic stem cells, we examined if FL could antagonize SDF-1α/CXCR4 function and evaluated the effect of FL on in vivo homing of normal hematopoietic progenitor cells. FL synergistically increased migration of human RS4;11 acute leukemia cells, which co-express wild-type Flt3 and CXCR4, to SDF-1α in short term migration assay. Exogenous FL had no effect on SDF-1α induced migration of MV4-11 cells that express ITD-Flt3 and CXCR4 however migration to SDF-1α was partially blocked by treatment with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor AG1296, which inhibits Flt3 kinase activity. These results suggest that FL/Flt3 signaling positively regulates SDF-1α mediated chemotaxis of human acute leukemia cells in short-term assays in vitro, similar to that seen with normal CD34+ cells. In contrast to the enhancing effect of FL on SDF-1α, prolonged incubation of RS4;11 and THP-1 acute myeloid leukemia cells, which also express Flt3 and CXCR4, with FL for 48hr, significantly inhibited migration to SDF-1α, coincident with reduction of cell surface CXCR4. Similarly, prolonged exposure of CD34+ or Ba/F3-Flt3 cells to FL down-regulates CXCR4 expression, inhibits SDF-1α-mediated phosphorylation of MAPKp42/p44, CREB and Akt and impairs migration to SDF-1α. Despite reduction of surface CXCR4, CXCR4 mRNA and intracellular CXCR4 in Ba/F3-Flt3 cells were equivalent in cells incubated with or without FL, determined by RT-PCR and flow cytometry after cell permeabilization, suggesting that the reduction of cell surface CXCR4 expression is due to accelerated internalization of CXCR4. Furthermore, incubation of Ba/F3-Flt3 cells with FL for 48hr or over-expression of ITD-Flt3 in Ba/F3 cells significantly reduced adhesion to VCAM1. Consistent with the negative effect of FL on in vitro migration and adhesion to VCAM1, pretreatment of mouse bone marrow cells with 100ng/ml of FL decreased in vivo homing of CFU-GM to recipient marrow by 36±7% (P<0.01), indicating that FL can negatively regulate in vivo homing of hematopoietic progenitor cells. These findings indicate that short term effect of FL can provide stimulatory signals whereas prolonged exposure has negative effects on SDF-1α/CXCR4-mediated signaling and migration and suggest that the FL/Flt3 axis regulates hematopoietic cell trafficking in vivo. Manipulation of SDF-1α/CXCR4 and FL/Flt3 interaction could be clinically useful for hematopoietic cell transplantation and for treatment of hematopoietic malignancies in which both Flt3 and CXCR4 are expressed.