Genome-wide association studies have consistently implicated the interleukin-15 (IL-15) gene in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) biology, including associations with disease susceptibility, and increased risk of central nervous system (CNS) involvement. However, whether pre-B ALL blasts directly respond to IL-15 is unknown. Here, we show that most pre-B ALL primary samples and cell lines express IL-15 and components of its receptor and that primary pre-B ALL cells show increased growth in culture in response to IL-15. Investigation of mechanisms of action using IL-15–responsive SD-1 cells shows this growth advantage is maximal under low-serum conditions, mimicking those found in cerebrospinal fluid. IL-15 also upregulates PSGL-1 and CXCR3, molecules associated with CNS trafficking. Investigation of downstream signaling pathways indicates that IL-15 induces signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 (STAT5), extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1/2, and to a lesser extent phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) and nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) phosphorylation. The IL-15–mediated growth advantage is abolished by mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (MEK/ERK), PI3K, and NF-κB inhibitors but preserved in the presence of STAT5 inhibition. Together, these observations provide a mechanistic link between increased levels of IL-15 expression and leukemogenesis, high-risk disease, and CNS relapse and suggest potential therapeutic targets.
- lymphoblastic leukemia
- cerebrospinal fluid