Alterations in the Noxa/Mcl-1 axis determine sensitivity of small cell lung cancer to the BH3 mimetic ABT-737

Paula Hauck, Bo H Chao, Julie Litz, Geoffrey W Krystal
Molecular Cancer Therapeutics 2009, 8 (4): 883-92
To understand the molecular basis for variable sensitivity to the BH3 mimetic drug ABT-737, the abundance of Bcl-2 family members was assayed in a panel of small cell lung cancer cell lines whose sensitivity varied over a 2-log range. Elevated Noxa and Bcl-2 levels directly correlated with sensitivity to ABT-737, whereas Mcl-1 levels were similar in all cell lines tested regardless of sensitivity. Transgenically enforced expression of Noxa but not Bcl-2 resulted in increased sensitivity to ABT-737 in multiple cell lines. This increase was especially pronounced in the H209 cell line in which expression of Noxa resulted in a proportionate decline in Mcl-1 expression. Although overexpression of Noxa enhanced sensitivity of the H526 and H82 cell lines to ABT-737, it did not result in altered Mcl-1 levels. Similarly, small interfering RNA-mediated knockdown of Noxa expression in the H146 cell line, which increased resistance to ABT-737, did not result in altered Mcl-1 levels. Therefore, three of four cell lines studied failed to show Noxa-mediated regulation of Mcl-1 expression. However, despite failure to regulate Mcl-1 levels, Noxa blocked binding of Bim to Mcl-1 following its release from Bcl-2 by ABT-737. Finally, we observed that a 24-hour incubation of the H526 and WBA cell lines with ABT-737 resulted in increased Noxa expression, suggesting that Noxa may play a direct role in ABT-737-mediated apoptosis. These results indicate that Noxa expression is the critical determinant of ABT-737 sensitivity and loss of Noxa-mediated regulation of Mcl-1 expression may be an important feature of small cell lung cancer biology.

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