Engraftment of human chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells in SCID mice: in vivo and in vitro studies.
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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a heterogeneous disease of the elderly which can present in one of three stages; benign, intermediate or advanced. The molecular events governing the progression of CLL are poorly understood. In order to develop model systems for predicting the aggressiveness of leukemic clones in CLL, in vivo transplantation of SCID mice with CLL cells, and the in vitro growth of CLL cells on mouse and human stromal layers, were investigated. Bone marrow or peripheral blood cells from 40 patients at different stages of CLL were transplanted into 172 immune-deficient SCID mice. Thirty-five percent of SCID mice injected with CLL cells were positive for the presence of human DNA by Southern blot or PCR analysis. The most frequently involved sites were the spleen, lung, kidney and bone marrow, at levels corresponding from 0.1 to 10 percent human DNA. Thrice-weekly intraperitoneal injections of IL-2, alone or in combination with IL-7, did not increase the level of human cell engraftment. SCID mice developed endogenous thymic lymphomas at an incidence of 10-33 percent, a rate that was not increased by CLL cell transplantation. In vitro, CLL cells were able to proliferate for 9 weeks on human stromal layers supplemented with CM (conditioned media from a culture of the human bladder carcinoma cell line 5637), but failed to thrive on the murine stromal cell line MTE cultured either in CM or autologous serum. FACS analysis revealed that 81 percent of proliferating cells on human stromal layers carried the CD5 cell surface marker, identifying them as CLL cells. Previously EBV-negative CLL cells became EBV-positive after 9 to 12 weeks in culture. The results of this study provide a firm foundation for the development of in vivo and in vitro model systems for the study of human CLL.