Unbalanced expression of bcl-2 family proteins in follicular lymphoma: Contribution of CD40 signaling in promoting survival

Paolo Ghia, Vassiliki A. Boussiotis, Joachim L. Schultze, Angelo A. Cardoso, David M. Dorfman, John G. Gribben, Arnold S. Freedman, Lee M. Nadler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although highly responsive, advanced stage follicular lymphoma (FL) is not curable with conventional treatment. This relative resistance is thought to be due to the t(14;18) that results in the constitutive overexpression of the death-inhibiting protein bcl-2. However, the observation that FL cells are sensitive to treatment in vivo and prone to apoptosis on in vitro culture questions whether bcl-2 alone is responsible for the pathogenesis and clinical behavior of this disease. Therefore, multiple genes are likely to be involved in both the lymphomagenesis and the clinical course of FL. We examined whether expression of other bcl-2 family genes might also be operative. Here, we show that FL cells display a different pattern of expression of bcl-2 family proteins from normal germinal center (GC) B cells that are thought to be their normal counterpart. FL cells express the death- suppressor proteins bcl-2, bcl-x(L), and mcl-1; whereas GC B cells express bcl-X(L) and mcl-1 but also the proapoptotic proteins bax-α and bad. Although maintaining constitutive levels of bcl-2 and mcl-1, FL cells are not protected from apoptosis when cultured in vitro. Their propensity to undergo apoptosis is temporally associated with downregulation of bcl-x(L). More importantly, activation of FL cells via CD40 not only prevents downregulation but increases the level of bcl-x(L) expression and results in promotion of survival. These results support the hypothesis that the overexpression of bcl-2 is not the only antiapoptotic mechanism responsible for the pathogenesis of FL. Survival of FL cells is determined by a number of death- inhibiting proteins, among which bcl-x(L) appears to have the most critical role. Moreover, these findings are consistent with the hypothesis that, although FL cells are malignant, they respond to microenvironmental signals such as CD40L that appear to contribute to their survival through the upregulation, of death-inhibiting proteins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-251
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology


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