SOX11 promotes tumor protective microenvironment interactions through CXCR4 and FAK regulation in mantle cell lymphoma

Patricia Balsas, Jara Palomero, Álvaro Eguileor, Marta Leonor Rodríguez, Maria Carmela Vegliante, Ester Planas-Rigol, Marta Sureda-Gómez, Maria C. Cid, Elias Campo and Virginia Amador

Key Points

  • SOX11 regulates MCL homing and invasion via direct regulation of CXCR4 and FAK expression and PI3K/AKT and ERK1/2 signaling activation.

  • SOX11 expression increases CAM-DR, contributing to a more aggressive MCL phenotype.

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


SOX11 overexpression in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) has been associated with more aggressive behavior and worse outcome. However, SOX11 oncogenic pathways driving MCL tumor progression are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that SOX11 binds to regulatory regions of 2 important genes for microenvironment signals in cancer: (C-X-C motif) chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4) and PTK2 (encoding for focal adhesion kinase [FAK]). Moreover, SOX11+ xenograft and human primary MCL tumors overexpress cell migration and stromal stimulation gene signatures compared with their SOX11 counterparts. We show that SOX11 directly upregulates CXCR4 and FAK expression, activating PI3K/AKT and ERK1/2 FAK-downstream pathways in MCL. Concordantly, SOX11+ MCL cells have higher cell migration, transmigration through endothelial cells, adhesion to stromal cells, and cell proliferation and display an increased resistance to conventional drug therapies compared with SOX11 MCL cells. Specific FAK inhibition blocks downstream PI3K/AKT- and ERK1/2-mediated phosphorylation. Additionally, specific FAK and PI3K inhibitors reduce SOX11-enhanced MCL cell migration and stromal interactions and revert cell adhesion–mediated drug resistance (CAM-DR) to the same levels as SOX11 MCL cells. In intravenous MCL xenograft models, SOX11+ MCL cells display higher cell migration, invasion, and growth compared with SOX11-knockdown cells, and specific FAK and CXCR4 inhibitors impair SOX11-enhanced MCL engraftment in bone marrow. Overall, our results suggest that SOX11 promotes MCL homing and invasion and increases CAM-DR through the direct regulation of CXCR4 and FAK expression and FAK/PI3K/AKT pathway activation, contributing to a more aggressive phenotype. Inhibition of this pathway may represent an efficient strategy to overcome stromal-mediated chemotherapy refractoriness in aggressive MCL.

  • Submitted April 5, 2017.
  • Accepted May 16, 2017.
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