Identification of proliferative and non-proliferative subpopulations of leukemic cells in CLL

Kirsty M. Cuthill*, Yan Zhang, Andrea Pepper, Lies Boelen, Eve Coulter, Becca Asquith, Stephen Devereux, Derek C. Macallan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Pathogenesis in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is strongly linked to the potential for leukemic cells to migrate to and proliferate within lymph-nodes. Previous in vivo studies suggest that all leukemic cells participate in cycles of migration and proliferation. In vitro studies, however, have shown heterogeneous migration patterns. To investigate tumor subpopulation kinetics, we performed in vivo isotope-labeling studies in ten patients with IgVH-mutated CLL (M-CLL). Using deuterium-labeled glucose, we investigated proliferation in sub-populations defined by CXCR4/CD5 and surface (sIgM) expression. Mathematical modeling was performed to test the likelihood that leukemic cells exist as distinct sub-populations or as a single population with the same proliferative capacity. Further labeling studies in two patients with M-CLL commencing idelalisib investigated the effect of B-cell receptor (BCR) antagonists on sub-population kinetics. Modeling revealed that data were more consistent with a model comprising distinct sub-populations (p = 0.008) with contrasting, characteristic kinetics. Following idelalisib therapy, similar labeling suppression across all sub-populations suggested that the most proliferative subset is the most sensitive to treatment. As the quiescent sub-population precedes treatment, selection likely explains the persistence of such residual non-proliferating populations during BCR-antagonist therapy. These findings have clinical implications for discontinuation of long-term BCR-antagonist treatment in selected patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2233-2241
Number of pages9
Issue number9
Early online date28 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


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