Activation of the NOTCH pathway occurs commonly in T acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) mainly due to mutations in NOTCH1 or alterations in FBW7 and is involved in the regulation of cell proliferation and survival. Since mutations hit different domains of the receptor, they are predicted to heterogeneously perturb ligand-induced NOTCH1 activity. Moreover, T-ALL cells also co-express NOTCH3 receptors which could be triggered by different ligands. In this study, we aimed to investigate the role of DLL4 in the regulation of NOTCH signaling in T-ALL cells in the context of different types of NOTCH1 mutation or wild-type NOTCH receptor, as well as the effects of DLL4 neutralization on T-ALL engraftment in mice. We found that NOTCH signaling can be stimulated in T-ALL cells in vitro by either human or murine DLL4 with heterogeneous effects, according to NOTCH1/FBW7 mutation status, and that these effects can be blocked by antibodies neutralizing DLL4, NOTCH1 or NOTCH2/3. In vivo, DLL4 is expressed in the spleen and the bone marrow (BM) of NOD/SCID mice bearing T-ALL xenografts as well as the BM of T-ALL patients. Importantly, DLL4 blockade impaired growth of T-ALL cells in NOD/SCID mice and increased leukemia cell apoptosis. These results show that DLL4 is an important component of the tumor microenvironment which contributes to the early steps of T-ALL cell growth.
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