We investigated the expression of Tie-2 in primary blasts from 111 patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) to evaluate a possible linkage between the expression of this receptor and the immunophenotypic and biologic properties of leukemic blasts. Tie-2 was expressed at moderate and high levels in 39 and 23 of 111 AMLs, respectively. The analysis of the immunophenotype clearly showed that Tie-2 expression in AML was associated with monocytic features. Interestingly, Tie-2 expression on AML blasts was associated with concomitant expression of other receptors for endothelial growth factors, such as vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 1 (VEGF-R1), -R2, and -R3. Tie-2+ AMLs were characterized by high blast cell counts at diagnosis, a high frequency of Flt3 mutations, and increased Flt3 expression. The survival of Tie-2+ AMLs is sustained through an autocrine pattern involving Angiopoietin-1 and Tie-2, as suggested by experiments showing induction of apoptosis in Tie-2+ AMLs by agents preventing the binding of angiopoietins to Tie-2. Finally, the in vitro growth of Tie-2+ AMLs in endothelial culture medium supplemented with VEGF and angiopoietins resulted in their partial endothelial differentiation. These observations suggest that Tie-2+ AMLs pertain to a mixed monocytic/endothelial lineage, derived from the malignant transformation of the normal counterpart represented by monocytic cells expressing endothelial markers. The autocrine angiopoietin/Tie-2 axis may represent a promising therapeutic target to improve the outcome of patients with monocytic AML.
Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.