Novel IL-21 signaling pathway up-regulates c-Myc and induces apoptosis of diffuse large B-cell lymphomas

Kristopher A. Sarosiek, Raquel Malumbres, Hovav Nechushtan, Andrew J. Gentles, Eli Avisar, Izidore S. Lossos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Interleukin-21 (IL-21), a member of the IL-2 cytokine family, has diverse regulatory effects on natural killer (NK), T, and B cells. In contrast to other cytokines that are usually immunostimulatory, IL-21 can induce apoptosis of murine B cells at specific activation-differentiation stages. This effect may be used for treatment of B-cell malignancies. Herein we report that diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) cell lines exhibit widespread expression of the IL-21 receptor (IL-21R) and that IL-21 stimulation leads to cell-cycle arrest and caspase-dependent apoptosis. IL-21 also induces apoptosis in de novo DLBCL primary tumors but does not affect viability of human healthy B cells. Furthermore, IL-21 promotes tumor regression and prolongs survival of mice harboring xenograft DLBCL tumors. The antilymphoma effects of this cytokine are dependent on a mechanism involving IL-21-activated signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) up-regulating expression of c-Myc. This up-regulation promotes a decrease in expression of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL proteins triggering cell death. Our results represent one of the first examples in which the STAT3-c-Myc signaling pathway, which can promote survival and oncogenesis, can induce apoptosis in neoplastic cells. Moreover, based on IL-21's potency in vitro and in animal models, our findings indicate that this cytokine should be examined in clinical studies of DLBCL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)570-580
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 21 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Hematology
  • Cell Biology


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