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Clin Cancer Res. 2001 Mar;7(3):709-23.

Inhibition of interleukin 10 by rituximab results in down-regulation of bcl-2 and sensitization of B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma to apoptosis.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, UCLA School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles 90095, USA.


Treatment of patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is frequently hampered by development of chemoresistance. Rituximab is a chimeric mouse antihuman CD20 antibody that offers an alternative; however, its mechanism of action is not clearly understood. Treatment of lymphoma cell lines with Rituximab sensitizes the cells to the cytotoxic and apoptotic effects of therapeutic drugs, e.g., cisplatin, fludarabine, vinblastine, and Adriamycin. This study investigated the mechanism(s) involved in the reversal of drug resistance by Rituximab therapy. NHL cells synthesize and secrete antiapoptotic cytokines implicated in drug resistance, including interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, and tumor necrosis factor alpha. We hypothesized, therefore, that sensitization by Rituximab may be due in part to modification of cytokine production. In this study, examination of cytokine secretion by NHL 2F7 tumor cells revealed down-regulation of IL-10 by Rituximab treatment. Moreover, cytotoxicity assays using exogenous IL-10 and IL-10-neutralizing antibodies demonstrated that IL-10 serves as an antiapoptotic/protective factor in these tumor cells against cytotoxic drugs. Furthermore, expression in 2F7 cells of the protective factor, Bcl-2, was shown to be dependent on IL-10 levels and down-regulated by Rituximab. Other gene products such as Bax, Bcl-x, Bad, p53, c-myc, and latent membrane protein-1 (LMP) were not affected by Rituximab treatment. Drug sensitization, as well as down-regulation of both IL-10 and Bcl-2, was corroborated in experiments using the NHL cell line 10C9. The Ramos and Daudi NHL cell lines were not sensitizable, nor did their Bcl-2 or IL-10 levels change. These studies demonstrate that one mechanism by which Rituximab sensitizes NHL to chemotherapeutic drugs is mediated through down-regulation of antiapoptotic IL-10 autocrine/paracrine loops and Bcl-2. The clinical relevance of these findings is discussed.

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