Bone marrow (BM) microenvironment contributes to the regulation of normal hematopoiesis through a finely tuned balance of self-renewal and differentiation processes, cell-cell interaction and secretion of cytokines that during leukemogenesis are altered and favor tumor cell growth. In pediatric acute myeloid leukemia (AML), chemotherapy is the standard of care, but still >30% of patients relapse. The need to accelerate the evaluation of innovative medicines prompted us to investigate the mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) role in the leukemic niche to define its contribution to the mechanisms of leukemia escape. We generated humanized three-dimensional (3D) niche with AML cells and MSCs derived from either patients (AML-MSCs) or healthy donors. We observed that AML cells establish physical connections with MSCs, mediating a reprogrammed transcriptome inducing aberrant cell proliferation and differentiation, and severely compromising their immunomodulatory capability. We confirmed that AML cells modulate h-MSCs transcriptional profile promoting functions similar to the AML-MSCs when co-cultured in vitro, thus facilitating leukemia progression. Conversely, MSCs derived from BM of patients at time of disease remission showed recovered healthy features, at transcriptional and functional levels, including the secretome. We proved that AML blasts alter MSCs activities in the BM niche, favoring disease development and progression. We discovered that a novel AML-MSCs selective CaV1.2 channel blocker drug, Lercanidipine, is able to impair leukemia progression in 3D niche both in vitro and when implanted in vivo, if used in combination with chemotherapy, supporting the hypothesis that synergistic effects can be obtained by dual targeting approaches.
Giulia Borella, Ambra Da Ros, Giulia Borile, Elena Porcù, Claudia Tregnago, Maddalena Benetton, Anna Marchetti, Valeria Bisio, Barbara Montini, Barbara Michielotto, Alice Cani, Anna Leszl, Elisabetta Campodoni, Monica Sandri, Monica Montesi, Silvia Bresolin, Stefano Cairo, Barbara Buldini, Franco Locatelli, Martina Pigazzi