Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) is a B-cell malignancy characterized by the aberrant production of a monoclonal IgM protein that may lead to hyperviscosity. Although this is a major factor causing significant morbidity in patients, little is known about the mechanisms that regulate monoclonal protein synthesis. Cytokines are protein mediators that are known to be involved in many biological processes, and can profoundly affect tumor cells and the tumor microenvironment. Many cytokines have been shown to have potent therapeutic efficacy in preclinical cancer models; however, the role of cytokine networks in WM is not fully understood and few studies have described the precise functional roles of cytokines in WM.
To address this issue we performed a multiplex ELISA analysis to test cytokine levels in sera from patients with WM. We found that Rantes/CCL5 is significantly elevated in WM patients and correlates with disease activity. Elevated expression of RANTES in the serum was confirmed by ELISA and was also detected in the bone marrow of WM patients by ELISA and immunohistochemistry. RANTES expression serves as a marker for recruitment of immune cells and is associated with a wide range of immune-mediated diseases. However, the impact of RANTES in WM is not known. We analyzed the expression of receptors for Rantes by flow cytometry and found that WM B cells and stromal cells express CCR1 and CCR3, but not CCR5. Using a standard chemotaxis assay, we determined that Rantes had no effect on B cell or stromal cell recruitment. Rantes also had no effect on B cell or stromal cell survival, however it did promote stromal cell proliferation (p<0.04). The interaction between Rantes and IL-6 has been described in an autoimmune disease model. Since stromal cells secrete significantly more IL-6 than WM B cells, we treated stromal cells with Rantes for 24 hr and found that Rantes increases IL-6 secretion (p<0.03). To characterize the mechanism of Rantes-mediated IL-6 secretion, we transfected stromal cells with an IL-6 promoter construct and treated with Rantes for 12 hr and found a significant increase in IL-6 promoter activity (p<0.0162) indicating Rantes can regulate IL-6 transcription. Bioinformatics analysis of the IL-6 promoter indicates the presence of multiple candidate binding sites for transcription factors that have been previously shown to play a role in the biology of B cells, including NFkB, AP1, and GLI. Co-transfection of stromal cells with an IL-6 reporter construct and a plasmid expressing GLI1, GLI2 or GLI3 demonstrates that GLI2 and GLI3 proteins can regulate the IL-6 promoter. We then transfected stromal cells with a reporter construct containing 8X-GLI binding sites and demonstrate that Rantes can regulate GLI transcription further supporting a role for the interaction between Rantes and IL-6 through GLI transcription factors. IL-6 rich tumor microenvironment supports malignant cells. Elevated IL-6 levels have no effect on survival of BCWM.1 cells or CD19+ 138+ cells from WM patients, but leads to upregulation of IgM secretion by BCWM.1 cells and CD19+ CD138+ cells from WM patients, and increases their proliferation (p<0.0039). IL-6 activates Erk1/2 and Jak/ Stat in WM and stimulation of the IgM secreting cells BCWM.1 with IL-6 in the presence of PD98059 MAPK inhibitor had no effect on IgM secretion. However, stimulation of BCWM.1 cells with IL-6 in the presence of JakI inhibitor abolished the IL-6 mediated IgM secretion suggesting IL-6 mediated increase in IgM secretion occurs through Jak/ Stat signaling pathway.
Analysis of Rantes levels in other B cell malignancies including follicular lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance and multiple myeloma indicates that Rantes is elevated in other B cell lymphoproliferative disorders and suggest Rantes may play a similar role in other malignancies. In summary, our data identifies a novel Rantes-GLI-IL-6 interplay in the stromal microenvironment that promotes IgM production by malignant B cells. This therefore provides multiple new potential therapeutic avenues, targeting both malignant cells and the microenvironment to control malignant cell growth, and immunoglobulin secretion in WM and Ig-mediated diseases.