Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) is characterized by expression of the constitutively active BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase. Previously, we identified down-regulation of the negative growth regulator, CCN3, as a result of BCR-ABL kinase activity. Reduced CCN3 expression is a prominent feature in both primary human CML cells and cell lines. We now show that CCN3 is growth inhibitory and enhances imatinib induced growth inhibition.

To evaluate the biological consequence of CCN3 expression in CML, K562 cells were stably transfected with a construct containing CCN3 (pCMV82-23) and growth characteristics and activation of signaling pathways were compared to cells transfected with empty vector (control). CCN3 expression was undetected by Real-time PCR in control cells whilst pCMV82-23 cells expressed 2.25 × 106 copies per 50ng of cDNA. pCMV82-23 cells showed reduced colony formation capacity (p=0.003) and reduced cell growth over a period of five days (p=0.005). Investigation of cellular signaling showed CCN3 expression resulted in significant down-regulation of three major signaling pathways and demonstrated reduced phosphorylation of ERK (p=0.002), pAKT (p=0.017) and pSTAT5 (p=0.005) compared to control cells. Protein levels for total ERK, AKT and STAT5 were unaffected by CCN3 expression. Flow cytometry showed that sustained CCN3 expression resulted in an accumulation of cells within the subG0 stage of the cell cycle (11.4% ± 3 (p=0.040)).

To determine if CCN3 expression could influence sensitivity to the BCR-ABL kinase inhibitor, imatinib, pCMV82-23 cells and control cells were treated with imatinib (5uM) for 48h. Control cells treated with imatinib showed moderate growth inihibition (19.6% ± 2.5) compared to untreated control. pCMV82-23 cells showed a significant increase in the magnitude of imatinib induced growth inhibition (63.3% ± 10.5 (p=0.043)). This was associated with an increased accumulation of cells in the subG0 area of the cell cycle, 34.6% ± 5 for pCMV82-23 cells compared to control cells (21.7% ± 8) in response to imatinib treatment (p=0.006). To then determine if these effects could be reproduced using recombinant CCN3 (rCCN3), K562 cells were treated with imatinib (5uM) alone or in combination with rCCN3 (10nM) for 48h. K562 cells treated with the combination of rCCN3 and imatinib showed enhanced growth inhibition (71.8% ± 7.9) compared to cells treated with imatinib alone (81.1% ± 9.2 (p=0.008)).

Loss of CCN3 is consistent with properties associated with the CML phenotype. Sustained expression of CCN3 in K562 cells restores growth control and re-establishes induction of apoptosis. Both increased expression of CCN3 or addition of the recombinant protein provide additional benefit for imatinib induced growth inhibition thus providing a novel avenue for therapeutic intervention.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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