Human CD38 is a cell surface molecule endowed with multiple functions. As an enzyme, it catalyzes the production of Ca2+ active metabolites, predominantly cADPR and ADPR. As a receptor, it regulates the activation of an intracellular signaling pathway, generally linked to lymphocyte activation and proliferation in physiological conditions. The finding that CD38 behaves as an independent negative prognostic factor in CLL patients was the starting point for investigations into the functional role of the molecule in the neoplastic context. Data accumulating in over a decade concur to define a model where CD38 is a central element of a large supramolecular complex that includes surface signaling receptors, chemokine receptors, adhesion molecules and matrix metalloproteases. Expression of CD38 within this supramolecular complex makes signal transduction as well as chemotaxis and homing more efficient, suggesting that the molecule is an integrator of proliferative and migratory signals. These data indicate that CD38 is not only a reliable disease marker but also a functional molecule in the CLL context. The next decade will likely tell whether it can also be a useful therapeutic target.
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