In B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL), defective apoptosis causes the accumulation of mature CD5+ B cells in lymphoid organs, bone marrow (BM), and peripheral blood (PB). These cells are the progeny of a proliferating pool that feeds the accumulating compartment. The authors sought to determine which molecular mechanisms govern the proliferating pool, how they relate to apoptosis, and what the role is of the microenvironment. To begin to resolve these problems, the expression and modulation of the family of inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs) were investigated, with consideration given to the possibility that physiological stimuli, such as CD40 ligand (CD40L), available to B cells in the microenvironment, might modulate IAP expression. The in vitro data on mononuclear cells from PB or BM of 30 patients demonstrate that B-CLL cells on CD40 stimulation express Survivin and that Survivin is the only IAP whose expression is induced by CD40L. Through immunohistochemistry, in vivo Survivin expression in lymph node (LN) and BM biopsies was evaluated. In reactive LN, Survivin was detected only in highly proliferating germinal center cells. In LN from patients with B-CLL, Survivin was detected only in pseudofollicies. Pseudofollicle Survivin+ cells were actively proliferating and, in contrast to Survivin+ B cells found in normal GC, were Bcl-2+. In B-CLL BM biopsies, CD5+, Survivin+ cells were observed in clusters interspersed with T cells. These findings establish that Survivin controls the B-CLL proliferative pool interfacing apoptosis and that its expression may be modulated by microenvironmental stimuli.
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