B cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a serious and frequently fatal illness. Some of the genetic changes that lead to lymphoma have been discovered, but many of the other contributing mechanistic details underlying transformation events are not yet known. Members of the TNF super-family have been shown to be key mediators in the formation and regulation of both normal and malignant cell growth. APRIL (A Proliferation Inducing-ligand), a TNF family member expressed by monocytes, macrophages, and tumor cells, stimulates B-cell NHL growth and transgenic over-expression of APRIL in mice results in B cell hyperplasia and lymphoma. The ability of APRIL to bind to TNFR related receptors, BCMA (B Cell Maturation Antigen) and TACI (Transmembrane Activator and CAML Interactor), and with lower affinity to heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPG) has complicated studies to better understand APRIL mediated signaling. It has been shown that NHL cells variably express TACI and BCMA, with TACI being most predominant, however, the specific mechanisms of how APRIL induces NHL cell growth remain to be fully defined. Therefore, we sought to specifically characterize APRIL-mediated signaling events through TACI to better understand the role of this receptor-ligand interaction in B cell NHL biology. Using a TACI-expressing NHL cell line (Karpas) we found that APRIL consistently increased NHL cell proliferation, but had very little effect on cell survival. Since the PI-3K/Akt pathway has been shown to be important in regulating cell cycle progression, we explored the possibility that APRIL-TACI interactions resulted in activation of this pathway. We found that stimulation of TACI-expressing NHL cells with APRIL results in phosphorylation of Akt but had no effect on NF-kB classical pathway activation. Because APRIL can also bind to cells via proteoglycans, we also tested the ability of APRIL to activate Akt in the presence of heparin and found that APRIL-mediated Akt phosphorylation was still detectable. These results suggest that APRIL-mediated signaling occurs independent of proteoglycan binding. In addition to activating Akt, we also found that stimulation of NHL cells with APRIL resulted in up-regulation of cyclin D1 and p21, but not c-myc and p27. Inhibition of the PI3K/AKT signal transduction pathway with the pharmacological inhibitor wortmannin prevented APRIL-induced proliferation as well as up-regulation of p21 and cyclin D1 levels suggesting that PI-3K kinase is required. To further substantiate the contribution of TACI in APRIL-mediated signaling, we selectively targeted TACI expression using a siRNA approach. When TACI expression was inhibited, APRIL no longer induced NHL-B cell proliferation, Akt phosphorylation or up-regulation of p21 and cyclin D1. Taken together, these studies suggest that APRIL-TACI interactions result in activation of the PI3K/Akt pathway and up-regulation of cyclin D1 and p21, and help define the mechanism by which APRIL enhances B cell NHL growth. The inhibition of APRIL by blocking APRIL/receptor or interruption of downstream signaling may provide potential therapeutic option for patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Author notes

Disclosure:Employment: S.D. is emplyed by ZymoGenetics. Ownership Interests:; S.D. owns ZymoGenetics Stocks. Research Funding: S.M.A. received research funding from ZymoGenetics.