Backgroud: Cytokine receptor-like factor 2 (CRLF2) plays an important role in the development of normal B lymphocytes, which can mediate the proliferation of early B cells. However, the diect oncogenic effect of CRLF2 overexpression in acute lymhpoblastic leukemia (ALL) is far yet to be clarified. Here, we explored the effect of CRLF2 overexpression on cell proliferation and the effect of the novel JAK2 inhibitor on B-ALL cells with CRLF2 overexpression.

Methods: The 83 patients with newly-diagnosed ALL (56 B-cell and 27 T-cell ALL; range from 14 to 77 years old) between June 2008 and June 2016 were studied at Zhongda Hospital Southeast University. The 21 normal bone marrow subjects were enrolled as controls. The qPCR method is developed for detection CRLF2 expression and the CRLF2 overexpression was determined with a cutoff value more than the highest sample of normal bone marrow control. Median differences between the cohorts were evaluated using a Mann-Whitney U-test. Frequency differences were analyzed using uni- and multivariate Cox model. Event-free survival (EFS) and overall survival (OS) were estimated by the Kaplan-Meier method and compared by log-rank test. CRLF2 F232C gain-of-function mutant which we previously reported or CRLF2 were expressed in Nalm6 and 697 B-ALL cells with lentiviral transduction. WST-1 cell proliferation assay and in vitro clonogenic assay were performed upon JAK2 inhibitor (BBT594) treatment. Nalm6-CRLF2-luc, Nalm6-F232C-luc, and Nalm6-vector-luc cells were injected via tail vein into the NSG mice. The leukemia engraftment was monitored once a week by living imaging.

Results: The expression of CRLF2 in patietns with ALL was significantly higher than the normal control (P<0.0001). Patients with CRLF2 overexpression had a significantly higher WBC count (53*10^9/L vs. 29.5*10^9/L, P=0.041). Survival analysis showed that the patients with CRLF2 overexpression had a worse EFS and OS, the differences were statistically significant (11 months vs. 26 months, P=0.043 and 15 months vs. 32 months, P=0.015). Also, the CRLF2 expression is determined with flow cytometry after staining with FITC-CRLF2 antibody in 28 samples. The correlation analysis was performed on the CRLF2 expression detected by qPCR and flow cytometry, respectively. A significant positive correlation of the two methods was observed(r=0.957, P<0.0001). These data not only indicate that CRLF2 overexpression is a marker of poor outcome, but also reveal the qPCR might be a simple and quick method for screening CRLF2 overexpression in the clinic compared to flow cytometry which is commonly used. We further found that expression of CRLF2 or CRLF2 F232C mutant into Nalm6 and 697 B-ALL cells dramatically increase the CRLF2 mRNA level, which is 69 times than vector-only control. Moreover, CRLF2 or CRLF2 F232C significantly promotes the cell proliferation of Nalm6 and 697 cells compared to vector only (P<0.001). In addition, JAK2 inhibitor (BBT594) treatment showed the significant dose-dependent cell proliferation arrest and clonogenic inhibition in CRLF2 or CRLF2 F232C overexpressed Nalm6 and 697 cells compared to vector-only control. Furthermore, in vivo we observed the 5-fold higher signal intensity of leukemia engraftment in the mice injected with Nalm6-CRLF2-luc or Nalm6-F232C-luc compared to that of Nalm6-vector-luc control 1-3 weeks after the injection(P<0.001). The Nalm6-CRLF2-luc and Nalm6-F232C-luc infiltrations were observed in bone marrow, central nervous system, liver and spleen of the mice.

Conclusion: We showed that CRLF2 overexpression could enhance the proliferation and infiltration of human B-ALL cells, and for the first time indicated that JAK2 inhibitor could suppress the cell proliferation and clonogenesis of the CRLF2 overexpressed B-ALL cells. Our data provide direct evidence of the oncogenic role of CRLF2 overexpression and the new therapeutic potential for targeting CRLF2 overexpressed B-ALL with JAK2 inhibitor.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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