We have recently found that the vascular adhesion molecule E(endothelial)-selectin is a critical bone marrow niche component mediating acute myeloid leukemia (AML) chemo-resistance. Clinical trials involving the use of E-selectin mimetics to improve efficacy of conventional AML therapy are in progress. In this study we investigate the identity of the AML cell surface receptors mediating vascular E-selectin-induced chemo-resistance.
E-selectin has two well-characterised receptors, CD162 also known as P-Selectin Glycoprotein Ligand-1 (PSGL-1), and CD44 isoform HCELL (Hematopoietic Cell E-selectin/L-selectin Ligand) with other cell surface glycoproteins (such as ESL-1) and glycolipids also binding E-selectin after Sialyl Lewisx/a glycosylation.
To investigate which of these AML cell surface receptors are responsible for mediating vascular E-selectin survival signalling, we first investigated if each co-localized with E-selectin on AML cell surface by confocal imaging. Human CD34+ AML KG1a cells were labelled ± adhesion to fluorescently E-selectin-IgM. Confocal imaging revealed that although both canonical CD44 and CD162 receptors co-localized with E-selectin at the site of cell contact, only CD162 became strongly polarized at E-selectin binding site, while CD44 remained widely distributed across the cell surface.
To dissect a functional role for each of these canonical receptors in human AML, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing was used to selectively delete CD44 and/or CD162 from human AML KG1a cells. We found that although deletion of both CD44 and CD162 receptors reduced KG1a E-selectin-IgM binding potential (3-fold), deletion of either receptor alone did not.
Next, we investigated whether deletion of either receptor reversed E-selectin-mediated chemo-resistance in an in vitro chemosensitivity assay. KG1a cells were seeded in wells pre-coated with a range of vascular adhesion molecules commonly expressed in the bone marrow niche, then monitored for cell survival after 48hr treatment ± cytarabine. In this in vitro assay, we found that adhesion to E-selectin significantly increased parental KG1a survival to chemotherapy (p=0.0035). No similar increase in survival was observed following adhesion to P-selectin, or with integrin ligands ICAM-1 and PE-CAM-1. When we repeated the assay using Crispr CD44 deleted KG1a AML we found significant E-selectin-mediated chemo-resistance was still observed (p=0.027) even in the absence of CD44. These results suggest CD44 is not the receptor mediating AML chemo-resistance. In contrast E-selectin-mediated chemo-resistance was abrogated in the CD162 Crispr deleted human KG1a AMLs. Together these data suggest CD162/PSGL-1 expressed on the surface of human AML KG1a appears to be the receptor mediating vascular E-selectin chemo-resistance. This would be a completely novel role described for CD162 which is conventionally known as a homing molecule.
To confirm this new role for CD162 in mediating AML chemo-resistance can be replicated in pre-clinical models in vivo, we next generated (11q23-rearranged) AML from CD44-/- and/or CD162-/- gene-deleted mice by retroviral transduction of murine hematopoietic stem cells with MLL-AF9 which then were transplanted into wildtype mice. Cohorts of leukemic mice (n=8/gp) were administered induction therapy (cytarabine/doxorubicin) to monitor impact on disease-free survival. In contrast to AMLs from wildtype, we found absence of CD162 in murine AMLs lead to a pronounced chemo-sensitisation in vivo resulting in a significant (6-fold, p=0.0004) extension in overall disease-free survival duration, compared to either no chemotherapy gene-deleted AML controls, or to treated wildtype AML controls. These in vivo murine data confirm the identification of an exciting new role for CD162 as an important cell surface receptor mediating therapy resistance in AML.
In conclusion, we describe a novel form of niche-mediated chemo-resistance and identify CD162 as a key AML cell surface receptor involved in both human and mouse AML therapy resistance. CD162/PSGL-1 expression has not previously been implicated in direct therapy resistance. Together these findings help extend our knowledge on the potential mechanisms by which therapeutic blockade of vascular E-selectin can significantly improves therapy outcomes.
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Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.