Adhesion to osteopontin in the bone marrow niche regulates lymphoblastic leukemia cell dormancy

Benjamin Boyerinas, Maya Zafrir, Ali E. Yesilkanal, Trevor T. Price, Elizabeth M. Hyjek and Dorothy A. Sipkins

Key points

  • Stromal OPN anchors leukemia cells in pro-dormancy BM niches.

  • Inhibiting this interaction leads dormant cells to proliferate, sensitizing them to chemotherapy.


Malignant cells may evade death from cytotoxic agents if they are in a dormant state. The host microenvironment plays important roles in cancer progression, but how niches might control cancer cell dormancy is little understood. Here we show that osteopontin (OPN), an extracellular matrix molecule secreted by osteoblasts, can function to anchor leukemic blasts in anatomic locations supporting tumor dormancy. We demonstrate that acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells specifically adhere to OPN in vitro and secrete OPN when localized to the endosteal niche in vivo. Using intravital microscopy to image the calvarial bone marrow (BM) of xenografted mice, we show that OPN is highly expressed adjacent to dormant tumor cells within the marrow. Inhibition of the OPN signaling axis significantly increases the leukemic cell Ki-67 proliferative index and leads to a two-fold increase in tumor burden in treated mice. Moreover, utilizing cell cycle-dependent Ara-C chemotherapy to produce minimal residual disease (MRD) in leukemic mice, we show that OPN neutralization synergizes with Ara-C to reduce detectable BM MRD. Taken together, these data suggest that ALL interacts with extracellular OPN within the malignant BM, and that this interaction induces cell cycle exit in leukemic blasts, protecting them from cytotoxic chemotherapy.

  • Submitted December 26, 2012.
  • Accepted March 2, 2013.