The expression of cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4) molecule in human normal and neoplastic hematopoietic cells, both on the cell membrane and in the intracellular compartment, was evaluated. Flow cytometric analysis carried out with a panel of anti-CTLA-4 human single-chain fragment of variable domain (scFv) antibodies revealed that CTLA-4 was not expressed on the surface, whereas it was highly expressed within the cytoplasm, in freshly isolated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), T cells, B cells, CD34+ stem cells, and granulocytes. Various treatments with agents able to specifically activate each cell type induced CTLA-4 expression on the surface of these cells. Similarly, increased CTLA-4 expression Was observed in different hematopoietic cell lines although they also expressed surface CTLA-4, at different degrees of intensity, before activation. Surprisingly, CTLA-4 RNA transcripts were detectable in such cell lines only after nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) specific for CTLA-4 extracellular domain, suggesting a very fast CTLA-4 RNA processing accompanied by prolonged CTLA-4 protein accumulation. We further demonstrated surface expression of CTLA-4 in a variety of acute and chronic myeloid leukemias (AMLs and CMLs) and B- and T-lymphoid leukemias, either adult or pediatric. CTLA-4 was expressed in 25% to 85% of AMLs and CMLs depending on the leukemia subtype and the epitope analyzed, whereas in acute B-and T-leukemias CTLA-4 expression was mainly cytoplasmic. Chronic B leukemias appeared to express CTLA-4, both on the surface and in cytoplasm, whereas few cases tested of chronic T leukemias were negative. Two anti-CTLA-4 immunotoxins (scFvs-saporin) induced in vitro apoptosis of neoplastic cells from a representative AML, suggesting a novel immunotherapeutic approach to AM L based on CTLA-4 targeting.
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