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Thymic-Epithelial-Cell-Dependent Microenvironment Influences Proliferation and Apoptosis of Leukemic Cells

Patel, S;Zhdanovskaya, N;Sergio, I;Cardinale, A;Rosichini, M;Varricchio, C;Pace, E;Capalbo, C;Locatelli, F;Macone, A;Velardi, E;Palermo, R;Felli, M;

T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is a hematological cancer characterized by the infiltration of immature T-cells in the bone marrow. Aberrant NOTCH signaling in T-ALL is mainly triggered by activating mutations of NOTCH1 and overexpression of NOTCH3, and rarely is it linked to NOTCH3-activating mutations. Besides the known critical role of NOTCH, the nature of intrathymic microenvironment-dependent mechanisms able to render immature thymocytes, presumably pre-leukemic cells, capable of escaping thymus retention and infiltrating the bone marrow is still unclear. An important challenge is understanding how leukemic cells shape their tumor microenvironment to increase their ability to infiltrate and survive within. Our previous data indicated that hyperactive NOTCH3 affects the CXCL12/CXCR4 system and may interfere with T-cell/stroma interactions within the thymus. This study aims to identify the biological effects of the reciprocal interactions between human leukemic cell lines and thymic epithelial cell (TEC)-derived soluble factors in modulating NOTCH signaling and survival programs of T-ALL cells and TECs. The overarching hypothesis is that this crosstalk can influence the progressive stages of T-cell development driving T-cell leukemia. Thus, we investigated the effect of extracellular space conditioned by T-ALL cell lines (Jurkat, TALL1, and Loucy) and TECs and studied their reciprocal regulation of cell cycle and survival. In support, we also detected metabolic changes as potential drivers of leukemic cell survival. Our studies could shed light on T-cell/stroma crosstalk to human leukemic cells and propose our culture system to test pharmacological treatment for T-ALL.