The interaction between tumor cells and their surrounding microenvironment is essential for the growth and persistence of cancer cells within the host. Cytokines play a key role in mediating this crosstalk between malignant cells and the tumor microenvironment. Although this interaction is clearly established, many of the molecular mechanisms mediating these signaling events remain elusive. In previous work, we have shown that the cytokine CCL5 can regulate the expression and activity of the transcription factor GLI2 in stromal cells. GLI2 is an effector of hedgehog (HH) signaling; however, our studies reveal a role for GLI2 independent of HH. GLI2, in turn, increases the expression and secretion of IL-6 in the tumor microenvironment, highlighting a novel role for GLI2 in directly modulating cytokine genes. We therefore screened for additional cytokines regulated by this axis in HS-5 bone marrow stromal cells using expression arrays. We found that GLI2 can modulate the expression of several cytokines including CD40 ligand (CD40L), CCL2, CCL7 and CXCL11. CD40L is an immunomodulatory and proinflammatory molecule that has been shown to play a role in multiple hematologic malignancies including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) pathogenesis. We first characterized the regulation of CD40L, because of the importance of CD40L in malignant cell biology. Gene expression results were validated by RT-PCR in two additional bone marrow stromal cell lines Saka and L88 where overexpression of GLI2 resulted in increased CD40L expression. Furthermore, we detected increased levels of soluble CD40L (sCD40L) in L88 and Saka cells overexpressing GLI2. Conversely, knockdown of GLI2 resulted in reduced expression and secretion of this cytokine. Biochemical mapping of the domains critical for this GLI2 regulatory mechanism reveals that N-terminal transcriptional domain is dispensable, as a mutant form of GLI2 lacking this domain (delta N-GLI2) increases CD40L gene expression by RT-PCR, protein expression by western blot and sCD40L secretion by ELISA, beyond that of the full-length GLI2 levels. Bioinformatics analysis of the CD40L promoter indicates the presence of 3 candidate binding sites for GLI proteins, suggesting the modulation of CD40L by GLI2 is mediated by direct interaction with its promoter. Ongoing experiments are aimed at determining the mechanism by which GLI2 regulates CD40L expression (either by direct binding to the CD40L promoter or through another indirect pathway). Together, our data identify a novel mechanism controlling CD40L in stromal cells in the bone marrow microenvironment. Because of the importance of CD40L in malignant cell biology, understanding the mechanism of its regulation is of great importance for the development of therapies aimed at targeting the malignant bone marrow tumor microenvironment.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.