Infiltration by macrophages represents a characteristic morphological hallmark in high grade lymphatic malignancies such as Burkitt’s lymphoma (BL). Although macrophages can in principle target neoplastic cells and mediate antibody-dependent cytotoxicity (ADCC), tumor associated macrophages (TAMs) regularly fail to exert direct cytotoxic functions. The underlying mechanisms responsible for this observation remain unclear. Here we demonstrate that inflammatory M1 macrophages kill proliferating high grade B-cell lymphoma cells by releasing the antimicrobial peptide cathelicidin in a vitamin D-dependent fashion. Moreover, we show that cathelicidin directly induces cell death by targeting mitochondria of BL-cells. In contrast, anti-inflammatory M2 macrophages and M2-like TAMs in BL exhibit an altered vitamin D metabolism resulting in a reduced production of cathelicidin and consequently in inability to lyse BL cells. However, treatment of M2 macrophages with the bioactive form of vitamin D, 1,25D, or a vitamin D receptor agonist effectively induces cathelicidin production and triggers tumoricidal activity against BL cells. Furthermore, rituximab-mediated cytotoxicity of M2 macrophages is cathelicidin dependent and vitamin D treatment of 25D deficient volunteers improves rituximab-mediated ADCC against BL cells. These data indicate that activation of the vitamin D signaling pathway may activate antitumor activity of TAMs and improve the efficacy of ADCC.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

Sign in via your Institution