Myeloid cell leukemia-1 is an important apoptotic survival factor in triple-negative breast cancer

C M Goodwin, O W Rossanese, E T Olejniczak, S W Fesik
Cell Death and Differentiation 2015, 22 (12): 2098-106
Breast cancer is the second-most frequently diagnosed malignancy in US women. The triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) subtype, which lacks expression of the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2, afflicts 15% of patients and is refractory to current targeted therapies. Like many cancers, TNBC cells often deregulate programmed cell death by upregulating anti-apoptotic proteins of the B-cell CLL/lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) family. One family member, myeloid cell leukemia-1 (Mcl-1), is commonly amplified in TNBC and correlates with a poor clinical prognosis. Here we show the effect of silencing Mcl-1 and Bcl-2-like protein 1 isoform 1 (Bcl-xL) expression on viability in a panel of seventeen TNBC cell lines. Cell death was observed in a subset upon Mcl-1 knockdown. In contrast, Bcl-xL knockdown only modestly reduced viability, indicating that Mcl-1 is a more important survival factor. However, dual silencing of both Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL reduced viability in most cell lines tested. These proliferation results were recapitulated by BH3 profiling experiments. Treatment with a Bcl-xL and Bcl-2 peptide had only a moderate effect on any of the TNBC cell lines, however, co-dosing an Mcl-1-selective peptide with a peptide that inhibits Bcl-xL and Bcl-2 was effective in each line tested. Similarly, the selective Bcl-xL inhibitor WEHI-539 was only weakly cytotoxic across the panel, but sensitization by Mcl-1 knockdown markedly improved its EC50. ABT-199, which selectively inhibits Bcl-2, did not synergize with Mcl-1 knockdown, indicating the relatively low importance of Bcl-2 in these lines. Mcl-1 sensitivity is not predicted by mRNA or protein levels of a single Bcl-2 family member, except for only a weak correlation for Bak and Bax protein expression. However, a more comprehensive index composed of Mcl-1, Bcl-xL, Bim, Bak and Noxa protein or mRNA expression correlates well with Mcl-1 sensitivity in TNBC and can also predict Mcl-1 dependency in non-small cell lung cancer cell lines.

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