The poor prognosis of adults with B cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (BCP-ALL) is attributed to leukemia cells that are protected by the bone marrow (BM) microenvironment. In the present study, we explored the pharmacological targeting of mesenchymal stromal/stem cells in BM (BM-MSCs) to eliminate chemoresistant BCP-ALL cells. Human BCP-ALL cells (NALM-6 cells) that adhered to human BM-MSCs (NALM-6/Ad) were highly resistant to multiple anti-cancer drugs, and exhibited pro-survival characteristics, such as an enhanced Akt/Bcl-2 pathway and increased populations in the G0 and G2/S/M cell cycle stages. Bortezomib, a proteasome inhibitor, interfered with adhesion between BM-MSCs and NALM-6 cells and up-regulated the matricellular protein SPARC (secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine) in BM-MSCs, thereby reducing the NALM-6/Ad population. Inhibition of SPARC expression in BM-MSCs using a small interfering RNA enhanced adhesion of NALM-6 cells. Conversely, recombinant SPARC protein interfered with adhesion of NALM-6 cells. These results suggest that SPARC disrupts adhesion between BM-MSCs and NALM-6 cells. Co-treatment with bortezomib and doxorubicin prolonged the survival of BCP-ALL xenograft mice, with a significant reduction of leukemia cells in BM. Our findings demonstrate that bortezomib contributes to the elimination of BCP-ALL cells through disruption of their adhesion to BM-MSCs, and offer a novel therapeutic strategy for BCP-ALL through targeting of BM-MSCs.
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