Background: Bone marrow produced stromal-derived factor-1a (SDF-1a) is a key chemokine involved in chemotaxis, homing, mobilization, and expansion of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. While the majority of well-defined functions of SDF-1a are mediated via its receptor CXCR4, recent studies have characterized CXCR7 as an alternative receptor capable of binding SDF-1a. Although the functions of CXCR7 are still incompletely understood, the receptor was reported to promote migration and adhesion in certain cell types and function as a pro-survival factor in breast cancer cells. CXCR7 expression and function in human leukemia cells has not been characterized. In this study, we examined CXCR7 expression in leukemia cell lines and primary samples from patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and utilized a small molecule inhibitor of CXCR7 to probe CXCR7’s function.

Materials and methods: CXCR4 and CXCR7 expression was determined by flow cytometry, real-time PCR (RT-PCR) and immunocytochemistry (ICC) in leukemic cell lines including AML (OCI-AML2, OCI-AML3, HL60, U937 NB4, Molm13), ALL (REH, Raji, RS4; 11, Nalm6, Molt4) and CML (KBM5, K562) cells. In primary ALL patient samples, CD34+CD19+ gating was applied to detect CXCR7 expression on pre-B leukemic cells by flow cytometry. The migration of leukemic cells towards SDF-1a was studied using a transwell system. CXCR4 inhibitor AMD3100 was purchased from Sigma, and CXCR7 inhibitor CCX-733 was provided by ChemoCentryx Inc., Mountain View, CA.

Results: CXCR4 was found to be ubiquitously expressed on the cell surface of all leukemic cell lines tested. CXCR7 mRNA and protein expression was detectable only in Burkitt lymphoma Raji cells, as analyzed by flow cytometry (clone 11G8, R&D systems), RT-PCR and ICC. Curiously, CXCR7 expression was significantly induced in MOLM13 cells under hypoxic (6% O2) conditions (p=0.01). Low levels of surface CXCR7 were found in 8 of the 9 primary ALL samples by flow cytometry. To determine the respective roles of CXCR4 and CXCR7 in migration of leukemic cells, we utilized CXCR4 inhibitor AMD3100 and CXCR7 inhibitor CCR733 in Raji (CXCR7 positive) and RS4;11 (CXCR7 negative) cells. AMD3100 at 25μM significantly inhibited SDF-1a induced migration (from 38.5% to 12%); CCR733 at 10μM also inhibited SDF-1a induced migration (from 38.5% to 24%) and the combination of AMD3100 and CCR733 resulted in 81% inhibition of migration (from 38.5% to 7.2%). AMD3100 blocked SDF-1a induced migration of CXCR4+CXCR7 RS4;11 cells (from 36.5% to 15.8%), while CCR733 had no effect (36.5% and 39.2%). In conclusion, these studies demonstrate functional expression of the SDF-1 receptor CXCR-7 on Raji and primary ALL cells and suggest that CXCR7 plays an active role in the migration of leukemic cells. CXCR-7 may serve as an alternative receptor to CXCR4. Studies addressing the role of CXCR7 in adhesion, SDF-1a-mediated signaling and survival of leukemic cells are in progress.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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