NADPH oxidase-2 derived superoxide drives mitochondrial transfer from bone marrow stromal cells to leukemic blasts

Christopher R. Marlein, Lyubov Zaitseva, Rachel E. Piddock, Stephen D. Robinson, Dylan R. Edwards, Manar S. Shafat, Zhigang Zhou, Matthew Lawes, Kristian M. Bowles and Stuart A. Rushworth

Key Points

  • Functional mitochondria are transferred in vivo from BMSC to the leukemic blast.

  • AML-derived NOX2 drives transfer of mitochondria via the generation of superoxide.

Publisher's Note: There is an Inside Blood Commentary on this article in this issue.


Improvements in the understanding of the metabolic cross-talk between cancer and its microenvironment are expected to lead to novel therapeutic approaches. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells have increased mitochondria compared with nonmalignant CD34+ hematopoietic progenitor cells. Furthermore, contrary to the Warburg hypothesis, AML relies on oxidative phosphorylation to generate adenosine triphosphate. Here we report that in human AML, NOX2 generates superoxide, which stimulates bone marrow stromal cells (BMSC) to AML blast transfer of mitochondria through AML-derived tunneling nanotubes. Moreover, inhibition of NOX2 was able to prevent mitochondrial transfer, increase AML apoptosis, and improve NSG AML mouse survival. Although mitochondrial transfer from BMSC to nonmalignant CD34+ cells occurs in response to oxidative stress, NOX2 inhibition had no detectable effect on nonmalignant CD34+ cell survival. Taken together, we identify tumor-specific dependence on NOX2-driven mitochondrial transfer as a novel therapeutic strategy in AML.

  • Submitted March 10, 2017.
  • Accepted July 14, 2017.
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