MCL-1 and BCL-xL-dependent resistance to the BCL-2 inhibitor ABT-199 can be overcome by preventing PI3K/AKT/mTOR activation in lymphoid malignancies

G S Choudhary, S Al-Harbi, S Mazumder, B T Hill, M R Smith, J Bodo, E D Hsi, A Almasan
Cell Death & Disease 2015 January 15, 6: e1593
Overexpression of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family members is a hallmark of many lymphoid malignancies, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that can be targeted with small molecule inhibitors. ABT-199 is a rationally designed BCL-2 homology (BH)-3 mimetic that specifically binds to BCL-2, but not to MCL-1 and BCL-xL. Although the thrombocytopenia that occurs with navitoclax treatment has not been a problem with ABT-199, clinical trials in CLL could benefit by lowering the ABT-199 concentration through targeting other survival pathways. In this study, we investigated the mechanisms of resistance that develops to ABT-199 therapy by generating ABT-199-resistant (ABT199-R) cell lines via chronic exposure of NHL cell lines to ABT-199. Acquired resistance resulted in substantial AKT activation and upregulation of MCL-1 and BCL-xL levels that sequestered BIM. ABT199-R cells exhibited increased MCL-1 stability and failed to activate BAX in response to ABT-199. The ABT-199 acquired and inherent resistant cells were sensitized to treatment with ABT-199 by inhibitors of the PI3K, AKT, and mTOR pathways, NVP-BEZ235 and GS-1101. NVP-BEZ235, a dual inhibitor of p-AKT and mTOR, reduced MCL-1 levels causing BIM release from MCL-1 and BCL-xL, thus leading to cell death by BAX activation. The PI3Kδ inhibitor GS-1101 (idelalisib) downregulated MCL-1 and sensitized ABT199-R cells through AKT-mediated BAX activation. A genetic approach, through siRNA-mediated down-regulation of AKT, MCL-1, and BCL-xL, significantly decreased cell survival, demonstrating the importance of these cell survival factors for ABT-199 resistance. Our findings suggest a novel mechanism that modulates the expression and activity of pro-survival proteins to confer treatment resistance that could be exploited by a rational combination therapeutic regimen that could be effective for treating lymphoid malignancies.

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