The chemokine receptor CXCR4 is critically involved in the migration of hematopoietic cells towards the stromal derived factor (SDF-1α)-producing bone marrow microenvironment. We and others have previously demonstrated that stroma/leukemia interactions mediate protection of leukemic cells from chemotherapy-induced apoptosis (Konopleva, Leukemia 2002). Using a peptide analog of SDF-1α designated CTCE-9908, we tested the hypothesis that CXCR4 inhibition interferes with stromal/leukemia cell interactions resulting in increased sensitivity to chemotherapy. Our results showed that CTCE-9908 significantly inhibits SDF-1α-induced migration of U937 (43% inhibition) and OCI-AML3 cells (40% inhibition) in a dose-dependent manner. In three of the four primary AML samples which expressed CXCR4 on cell surface and migrated in response to SDF-1α, 50 μg/ml CTCE-9908 reduced SDF-1α-induced migration of leukemic blasts (60%, 19% and 50% inhibition respectively). In in vitro co-culture systems, stromal cells significantly protected OCI-AML3 cells from chemotherapy induced apoptosis [no MS-5, 75.2±5.2% annexinV(+); with MS-5, 59±1.1% annexinV(+)]. Western blot analysis revealed that CTCE-9908 inhibits Akt and Erk phosphorylation in a dose-dependent manner in the OCI-AML3 cell line stimulated by SDF-1α. Blockade of CXCR4 expression with CTCE-9908 markedly abrogated the protective effects of stromal cells on OCI-AML3 [Ara-C, 59±1.1% annexinV(+); Ara-C + CTCE-9908, 76.9±1.35 annexinV(+)]. Most importantly, it decreased stroma-mediated protection from AraC-induced apoptosis in four out of five primary AML samples with surface expression of functional CXCR4 (mean increase, 25.1±9.3% compared to chemotherapy alone). In vivo, subcutaneous administration of 1.25mg CTCE-9908 induced mobilization of leukemic cells from primary AML patient transplanted into NOD/Scid-IL2Rγ-KO mice (from 15% to 27% circulating leukemic cells 1 hour post CTCE-9908 injection). Taken together, our data suggest that SDF-1α/CXCR4 interactions contribute to the resistance of leukemic cells to chemotherapy-induced apoptosis via retention of leukemic cells in the bone marrow microenvironment niches. Disruption of these interactions by the potent CXCR4 inhibitor CTCE-9908 represents a novel strategy for targeting leukemia cell/bone marrow microenvironment interaction. Based on these observations, in vivo experiments are ongoing to characterize the efficacy of chemotherapy combined with CTCE-9908.

Disclosures: Wong:Chemokine Therapeutics Corp: Employment, Equity Ownership, Patents & Royalties.

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