Splenic marginal zone lymphoma (SMZL) originates from the neoplastic transformation of mature B-lymphocytes. However, there is a concurrent high prevalence of bone marrow (BM) infiltration, suggesting that BM microenvironment dynamics could have a potential involvement in disease pathology. In this regard, we aim to characterise BM derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), since they comprise key components of the BM hematopoietic stroma, in order to investigate if MSCs show altered properties in SMZL patients compared to healthy controls.

BM MSCs were isolated from 8 SMZL patients and 10 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. MSCs were in vitro expanded and re-seeded for a total of 5 passages (P). The colony forming unit-fibroblast (CFU-F) assay was used for the estimation of MSC frequency within the BM mononuclear cell (BMMC) fraction. Ex-vivo expanded MSCs were phenotypically characterized by flow cytometry (FC) using appropriate markers. In vitro differentiation to adipocytes and osteoblasts was assessed by cytochemical stains. The proliferative potential of ex vivo expanded MSCs was evaluated by Methyl Triazolyl Tetrazolium (MTT)-based assay and survival characteristics were studied using FC and 7-Aminoactinomycin D (7-AAD) staining. To assess the effect of patient MSCs on B cell growth, B cells were immunomagnetically isolated (Miltenyi Biotec GmbH, Germany) from peripheral blood (PB) of normal individuals, labeled with carboxy fluorescein succinimidyl ester (CFSE; Gibco Invitrogen, Paisley, Scotland) and subsequently cultured in the absence or presence of confluent layers of allogeneic BM-MSCs from SMZL patients or normal controls in the presence of CpG oligonucleotide 2006 (Invivogen, France) and IL-2 (R&D Systems, Minneapolis, MN). In a separate set of experiments, B cell survival was evaluated via FC and 7-AAD staining, after co-culturing with BM-MSCs from patients or healthy donors. Finally, to study BM-MSC capacity to chemotactically attract B-cells, transwell migration assays were set. In the bottom chambers MSCs from patients or healthy individuals were grown until confluency and then isolated B cells from PB of either patients or controls were added into the upper chamber. Twelve hours later migrated cells were enumerated. Grouped data are expressed as means± 1 standard error of the mean (SEM).

MSCs were successfully expanded from all participants in the study. Adherent cells from both study groups displayed the typical spindle-shape morphology and immunophenotypic analysis at the end of P2-P3-P4 demonstrated that cultures constituted of a homogeneous cell population, typically expressing CD29, CD44, CD73, CD90 and CD105 while being negative for CD14, CD34 and CD45. SMZL-derived MSCs were similar to their normal counterparts in the capacity to differentiate towards adipocytes and osteocytes as evidenced by Oil Red O and Alizarin Red staining, respectively. The frequency of MSCs within the BMMC compartment was significantly lower in patients as compared to healthy individuals (2.5±0.68/105 ΒΜΜCs and 7.23±0.6/105 ΒΜΜCs, respectively; P=0.0032) apparently due to the predominance of the lymphoma cells within patient BMMCs. SMZL MSCs displayed defective proliferative potential as compared to their normal counterparts at P2, as evidenced by the MTT assay (P<0.0001). To explore the influence of SMZL BM-MSCs in B cells survival we compared the viability of B cells isolated from the PB of healthy individuals cultured in medium alone to that of such cells co-cultured with either BM-MSCs derived from patients or normal controls. 43.85±1.46% of B cells cultured alone were apoptotic, while only 20.8±2.63% and 12±0.77% of B cells co-cultured with either normal MSCs or SMZL MSCs were apoptotic (P<0.0001 and P<0.0001, respectively). Notably patient MSCs confer a survival advantage in B cell viability over their normal counterparts (P=0.0374). Finally SMZL MSCs had a more potent chemotactic activity on B cells from healthy donors, as compared to MSCs from normal controls ( P<0.05).

In conclusion we have shown for the first time that SMZL lymphoma MSCs are intrinsically defective in terms of proliferative potential and exert an altered modulation of B cell apoptosis and B cell chemotaxis. These preliminary results concerning the properties of SMZL MSCs merit further investigation and provide the theoretical background for exploring their potential implication in lymphomagenesis.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.