CD49d and CXCR4 are key determinants of interactions between chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) tumor cells and their microenvironment. In this study, we investigated the effect of CD49d and CXCR4 expressions on survival of CLL cells. Primary CLL cells were cultured with CD49d ligand, VCAM-1, or bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs); then, apoptosis and immunophenotype analyses were performed. VCAM-1 treatment could not induce direct apoptosis protection or immunophenotype change on the CD49d-expressing CLL cells, but resulted in actin reorganization. The BMSC-induced apoptosis protection was independent from the presence of CD49d expression of CLL cells, but showed an inverse correlation with their CXCR4 expression level. We suppose that CD49d contributes to enhanced survival of leukemic cells by mediating migration to the protective microenvironment, not by direct prevention of apoptosis. Moreover, CLL cells with low CXCR4 expression represent a subpopulation that is more dependent on the microenvironmental stimuli for survival, and show increased “death by neglect” when separated from the supportive niche.
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