Ligation of CD40 inhibits apoptosis and stimulates proliferation of normal B cells, whereas ligation of CD95 (APO-1/Fas) induces apoptosis of activated lymphocytes. Aberrant signalling through the CD40 and CD95 antigens could thus participate in the pathogenesis of lymphoid malignancies. The expression anti function of CD40 and CD95 on neoplastic B cells from patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) were examined. CD40 was expressed by all 30 B-cell tumours, whereas CD95 was detected on neoplastic B cells in only one of 10 cases of ALL, two of 10 cases of CLL, and three of 10 cases of NHL. Incubation with an agonistic CD95 monoclonal antibody (MoAb) did not augment apoptosis in any of the unstimulated B-cell neoplasms. CD40 triggering did not consistently inhibit spontaneous apoptosis, but ultimately stimulated the growth of neoplastic B cells in most cases. Furthermore. CD40 activation led to up-regulation of the CD95 antigen in all 30 B-cell neoplasms. Ligation of CD95 on CD40-activated tumour cells augmented apoptosis in five of 10 ALL, three of 10 CLL, and nine of 10 NHL cases. The degree of apoptosis induced by CD95 triggering was greater for NHL cells than for ALL cells or CLL cells. Bcl-2 expression by ALL and NHL cells was substantially decreased after in vitro culture, whereas Bcl-2 expression by CLL cells was not significantly changed. However, there was no correlation between the level of Bcl-2 expression and sensitivity to CD95-mediated apoptosis. Thus, factors other than levels of CD95 and Bcl-2 determine susceptibility of malignant B cells to apoptosis after CD95 triggering. CD40-activated lymphoma cells appear to be very sensitive to CD95-mediated apoptosis, suggesting potential strategies for treatment of NHL. Elucidation of the mechanisms underlying resistance of ALL and CLL cells to CD95 triggering may facilitate the development of novel therapeutic approaches to these diseases as well.
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