The tumor microenvironment (TME) plays an essential role in the development, growth, and survival of the malignant B-cell clone in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Within the proliferation niches of lymph nodes, bone marrow, and secondary lymphoid organs, a variety of phenotypically and functionally altered cell types, including T cells, natural killer cells, monocytes/macrophages, endothelial and mesenchymal stroma cells, provide crucial survival signals, along with CLL-cellinduced suppression of antitumor immune responses. The B-cell receptor pathway plays a pivotal role in mediating the interaction between CLL cells and the TME. However, an increasing number of additional components of the multifactorial TME are being discovered. Although the majority of therapeutic strategies employed in CLL hitherto have focused on targeting the leukemic cells, emerging evidence implies that modulation of microenvironmental cells and CLL-TME interactions by novel therapeutic agents significantly affect their clinical efficacy. Thus, improving our understanding of CLL-TME interactions and how they are affected by current therapeutic agents may improve and guide treatment strategies. Identification of novel TME interactions may also pave the road for the development of novel therapeutic strategies targeting the TME. In this review, we summarize current evidence on the effects of therapeutic agents on cells and interactions within the TME. With a growing demand for improved and personalized treatment options in CLL, this review aims at inspiring future exploration of smart drug combination strategies, translational studies, and novel therapeutic targets in clinical trials.
Rebecka Svanberg, Sine Janum, Piers E M Patten, Alan G Ramsay, Carsten U Niemann