The most common human leukemia is B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL), which is characterized by a progressive accumulation of abnormal B-lymphocytes in blood, bone marrow and secondary lymphoid organs. Typically disease progression is slow, but as the number of leukemic cells increases, they interfere with the production of other important blood cells, causing the patients to be in an immunosuppressive state. To study the basis of this immunoregulation, we used cells from the transgenic Eμ-Tcl1 mouse, which spontaneously develop B-CLL due to a B-cell specific expression of the oncogene, Tcl1. Previously we showed that Eμ-Tcl1 CLL cells constitutively produce an anti-inflammatory cytokine, IL-10. Here we studied the role of IL-10 in CLL cell survival in vitro and the development of CLL in vivo. We found that neutralization of IL-I0 using anti-IL-10 antibodies or blocking the IL-10 receptor (IL-10R) using anti-IL-10R antibodies did not affect the survival of CLL cells in vitro. On the other hand, adoptively transferred Eμ-Tcl1 cells grew at a slower rate in IL-10R KO mice vs. wild type (WT) mice. There was a significant reduction in CLL cell engraftment in the spleen, bone marrow, peritoneal cavity and liver of the IL-10R KO compared to WT mice. Further studies revealed that IL-10 could be playing a role in the tumor microenvironment possibly by affecting anti-tumor immunity. This was seen by a reduction in the activation of CD8+ T cells as well as a significantly lower production of IFN-γ by CD4+ T cells purified from CLL-injected WT mice compared to those purified from CLL-injected IL-10R KO mice. These studies demonstrate that CLL cells suppress host anti-tumor immunity via IL-10 production. This led us to investigate possible mechanisms by which IL-10 is produced. We found a novel role of B-cell receptor (BCR) signaling pathway in constitutive IL-10 secretion. Inhibition of Src or Syk family kinases reduces the constitutive IL-10 production by Eμ-Tcl1 cells in a dose dependent manner. In addition, we found that Eμ-Tcl1 CLL cells exhibit clonal variation in their IL-10 production in response to BCR cross-linking. Further studies are being performed to understand the mechanisms by which BCR signaling affects IL-10 production.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.