Contribution of BCR-ABL-independent activation of ERK1/2 to acquired imatinib resistance in K562 chronic myeloid leukemia cells

Takeru Nambu, Norie Araki, Aiko Nakagawa, Akihiko Kuniyasu, Tatsuya Kawaguchi, Akinobu Hamada, Hideyuki Saito
Cancer Science 2010, 101 (1): 137-42
BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase, generated from the reciprocal chromosomal translocation t(9;22), causes chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). BCR-ABL is inhibited by imatinib; however, several mechanisms of imatinib resistance have been proposed that account for loss of imatinib efficacy in patients with CML. Previously, we showed that overexpression of the efflux drug transporter P-glycoprotein partially contributed to imatinib resistance in imatinib-resistant K562 CML cells having no BCR-ABL mutations. To explain an additional mechanism of drug resistance, we established a subclone (K562/R) of the cells and examined the BCR-ABL signaling pathway in these and wild-type K562 (K562/W) cells. We found the K562/R cells were 15 times more resistant to imatinib than their wild-type counterparts. In both cell lines, BCR-ABL and its downstream signaling molecules, such as ERK1/2, ERK5, STAT5, and AKT, were phosphorylated in the absence of imatinib. In both cell lines, imatinib effectively reduced the phosphorylation of all the above, except ERK1/2, whose phosphorylation was, interestingly, only inhibited in the wild-type cells. We then observed that phospho-ERK1/2 levels decreased in the presence of siRNA targeting BCR-ABL, again, only in the K562/W cells. However, using an ERK1/2 inhibitor, U0126, we found that we could reduce phospho-ERK1/2 levels in K562/R cells and restore their sensitivity to imatinib. Taken together, we conclude that the BCR-ABL-independent activation of ERK1/2 contributes to imatinib resistance in K562/R cells, and that ERK1/2 could be a target for the treatment of CML patients whose imatinib resistance is due to this mechanism.

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