Interactions with the bone marrow microenvironment are essential for leukemia survival and disease progression. We developed an imaging-based RNAi platform to identify protective cues from bone marrow derived mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) that promote survival of primary acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells. Using a candidate gene approach, we detected distinct responses of individual ALL cases to RNA interference with stromal targets. The strongest effects were observed when interfering with solute carrier family 3 member 2 (SLC3A2) expression, which forms the cystine transporter xc- when associated with SLC7A11. Import of cystine and metabolism to cysteine by stromal cells provides the limiting substrate to generate and maintain glutathione in ALL. This metabolic interaction reduces oxidative stress in ALL cells that depend on stromal xc-. Indeed, cysteine depletion using cysteine dioxygenase resulted in leukemia cell death. Thus, functional evaluation of intercellular interactions between leukemia cells and their microenvironment identifies a selective dependency of ALL cells on stromal metabolism for a relevant subgroup of cases, providing new opportunities to develop more personalized approaches to leukemia treatment.
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