Interleukin-15 enhances cellular proliferation and upregulates CNS homing molecules in pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Mark T.S. Williams, Yasar Yousafzai, Charlotte Cox, Allison Blair, Ruaidhri Carmody, Shuji Sai, Karen E. Chapman, Rachel McAndrew, Angela Thomas, Alison Spence, Brenda Gibson, Gerard J. Graham, Christina Halsey

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43 Citations (Scopus)


Genome-wide association studies have consistently implicated the interleukin-15 (IL-15) gene in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) biology, including associations with disease susceptibility, and increased risk of central nervous system (CNS) involvement. However, whether pre-B ALL blasts directly respond to IL-15 is unknown. Here, we show that most pre-B ALL primary samples and cell lines express IL-15 and components of its receptor and that primary pre-B ALL cells show increased growth in culture in response to IL-15. Investigation of mechanisms of action using IL-15-responsive SD-1 cells shows this growth advantage is maximal under low-serum conditions, mimicking those found in cerebrospinal fluid. IL-15 also upregulates PSGL-1 and CXCR3, molecules associated with CNS trafficking. Investigation of downstream signaling pathways indicates that IL-15 induces signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 (STAT5), extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1/2, and to a lesser extent phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) and nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) phosphorylation. The IL-15-mediated growth advantage is abolished by mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (MEK/ERK), PI3K, and NF-κB inhibitors but preserved in the presence of STAT5 inhibition. Together, these observations provide a mechanistic link between increased levels of IL-15 expression and leukemogenesis, high-risk disease, and CNS relapse and suggest potential therapeutic targets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3116-3127
Number of pages12
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2014


  • lymphoblastic leukemia
  • cerebrospinal fluid


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