Low catalase expression confers redox hypersensitivity and identifies an indolent clinical behavior in CLL

Chiara Cavallini, Roberto Chignola, Ilaria Dando, Omar Perbellini, Elda Mimiola, Ornella Lovato, Carlo Laudanna, Giovanni Pizzolo, Massimo Donadelli and Maria Teresa Scupoli

Key points

  • Low catalase expression confers hypersensitivity to external redox cues.

  • Differential redox profiles are associated with divergent clinical behaviors in CLL.


B-cell receptor (BCR) signaling is a key determinant of variable clinical behavior and a target for therapeutic interventions in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Endogenously produced H2O2 is thought to fine-tune the BCR signaling by reversibly inhibiting phosphatases. However, little is known about how CLL cells sense and respond to such redox cues and what impact they have on CLL. We characterized the response of BCR signaling proteins to exogenous H2O2 in cells from CLL patients using phospho-specific flow cytometry. Exogenous H2O2 in the absence of BCR engagement induced a signaling response of BCR proteins that was higher in CLL with favorable prognostic parameters and an indolent clinical course. We identified low catalase expression as a possible mechanism accounting for redox signaling hypersensitivity. Decreased catalase could cause an escalated accumulation of exogenous H2O2 in leukemic cells with a consequent greater inhibition of phosphatases and an increase of redox signaling sensitivity. Moreover, lower levels of catalase were significantly associated with a slower progression of the disease. In leukemic cells characterized by redox hypersensitivity, we also documented an elevated accumulation of ROS and an increased mitochondrial amount. Taken together, our data identified redox sensitivity and metabolic profiles that are linked to differential clinical behavior in CLL. This study advances our understanding of the redox and signaling heterogeneity of CLL and provides the rationale for the development of therapies targeting redox pathways in CLL.

  • Submitted August 4, 2017.
  • Accepted February 17, 2018.