Induction of DNA fragmentation in chronic B-lymphocytic leukemia cells

David J. McConkey, Miguel Aguilar-Santelises, Pia Hartzell, Ina Eriksson, Håkan Mellstedt, Sten Orrenius, Mikael Jondal

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179 Scopus citations


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia of B cell type (B-CLL) is a neoplastic disorder characterized by the accumulation of small resting lymphocytes in the periphery. The phenotype of these cells suggests that they are "frozen" at an early stage of maturation. Glucocorticoid hormones are commonly used to treat patients with B-CLL, resulting in a reduction in the peripheral lymphocyte count by an undefined mechanism. Here we report that glucocorticoids stimulate DNA fragmentation characteristic of a suicide process known as apoptosis or programmed cell death (PCD) in suspensions of cells from patients with B-CLL. The effects can be mimicked by Ca2+ ionophore and involve a sustained increase in the cytosolic Ca2+ concentration. Specific antibodies binding to membrane-associated IgM on the leukemic cells can also induce PCD by a similar mechanism. Phorbol esters block DNA fragmentation and cell killing in response to all of the agents, suggesting that activation of protein kinase C desensitizes the cells to PCD. Targeting the B-CLL cells with antibodies that induce an unbalanced, sustained Ca2+ increase may therefore represent a rational strategy for the destruction of leukemic cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1072-1076
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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