Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a unique malignancy characterized by persistent accumulation of quiescent B-cells. Disruption of survival pathways leads to apoptosis and renders CLL cells sensitive to chemotherapeutic agents. As clinical outcomes in CLL are heterogeneous, it is important to better predict prognosis in each individual case of the disease. In this respect, detection of somatic mutations in the immunoglobulin variable heavy chain (IgVH) genes has become the gold standard. Overexpression of ZAP-70 (Zeta-chain associated protein kinase - 70 kDa) by CLL cells correlates with unmutated IgVH genes and predicts poor outcome in B-CLL. Dipeptidyl Peptidase 2 (DPP2) is a newly discovered serine protease which maintains lymphocytes in a quiescent state (G0). In this study we investigated whether DPP2 is involved in cell cycle control in B-CLL. 38 patients with B-CLL and 20 healthy controls were included in the study. Median age of CLL patients was 67 years. Median time from diagnosis to enrollment in the study was 102 months. 21 patients (55.3%) received treatment before enrollment in the study. Standard Ficoll-Hypaque techniques were used to isolate peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from healthy donors and CLL patients. CLL cells were isolated to >98% purity by means of a MoFlo using CD19−specific antibodies. Cells were treated with Val-boro-Pro, a pan-inhibitor of DPP, or with DPP2-specific inhibitor (DSI), incubated for 16 hours and stained with propidium iodide and Annexin V. Expression of CD38 was assessed by flow cytometry, DPP2 and ZAP-70 - by real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction, Bcl-2 and p27 - by western blot analysis.

We report that CLL B-cells expressed higher levels of DPP2 mRNA than normal B-cells. Inhibition of DPP2 in PBMC with VbP or DSI resulted in caspase-dependent apoptosis. In individuals with CLL, death of B-lymphocytes (and rescue by caspase inhibitors) was observed in 22 cases (57.9%). In the remaining 16 cases (42.1%) malignant B-cells did not undergo apoptosis upon inhibition of DPP2 with either VbP or DSI. We found that CLL cells resistant to DPP2 inhibition-induced apoptosis expressed higher levels of ZAP-70. Meanwhile, protein levels of p27 (cell cycle inhibitor) were decreased in resistant CLL. These patients exhibited worse disease prognosis such as shorter treatment-free period (p<0.001), frequent episodes of treatment failure and faster disease progression. Between the two groups, we identified no differences in expression of Bcl-2. CLL B-cells express higher levels of DPP2, a serine protease involved in maintenance of G0 which may serve as a survival factor in CLL B-cells. Resistance vs. susceptibility to DPP2 inhibition-induced apoptosis can be employed as a prognostic factor in CLL.

Disclosures: ROI AI 43469; Eshe Fund.

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