We recently reported that chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) subgroups with distinct clonotypic BCRs present discrete patterns of TLR expression, function, and/or tolerance. In this study, to explore whether specific types of BCR/TLR collaboration exist in CLL, we studied the effect of single versus concomitant BCR and/or TLR stimulation on CLL cells from mutated (M-CLL) and unmutated CLL (U-CLL) cases. We stimulated negatively isolated CLL cells by using anti-IgM, imiquimod, and CpG oligodeoxynucleotide for BCR, TLR7, and TLR9, respectively, alone or in combination for different time points. After in vitro culture in the absence of stimulation, differences in p-ERK were identified at any time point, with higher p-ERK levels in U-CLL versus M-CLL. Pronounced p-ERK induction was seen by single stimulation in U-CLL, whereas BCR/TLR synergism was required in M-CLL, in which the effect was overall limited in scale. An opposite pattern was observed regarding induction of apoptosis, as studied by Western blotting for the cleaved fragment of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, and the active isoform of caspase-8, with M-CLL responding even to single stimulation, contrasting with U-CLL that showed minimal response. Our findings suggest that concomitant engagement of BCR and TLR leads to differential responses in CLL depending on the mutational status of the BCR. Differential intensity and duration of responses in M-CLL versus U-CLL indicates that the differences in signal transduction between the two subgroups may be primarily quantitative rather than qualitative.
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