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J Biol Chem. 2012 Sep 21;287(39):32875-80. Epub 2012 Aug 16.

The transcription factor Wilms tumor 1 confers resistance in myeloid leukemia cells against the proapoptotic therapeutic agent TRAIL (tumor necrosis factor α-related apoptosis-inducing ligand) by regulating the antiapoptotic protein Bcl-xL.

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  • 1Greehey Children's Cancer Research Institute, The University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Texas 78229, USA.


Tumor necrosis factor α-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is considered a promising cancer therapeutic agent due to its ability to induce apoptosis in a variety of cancer cells, while sparing normal cells. However, many human tumors including acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are partially or completely resistant to monotherapy with TRAIL, limiting its therapeutic utility. Therefore, identification of factors that contribute to TRAIL resistance may facilitate future development of more effective TRAIL-based cancer therapies. Here, we report a previously unknown role for WT1 in mediating TRAIL resistance in leukemia. Knockdown of WT1 with shRNA rendered TRAIL-resistant myeloid leukemia cells sensitive to TRAIL-induced cell death, and re-expression of shRNA-resistant WT1 restored TRAIL resistance. Notably, TRAIL-mediated apoptosis in WT1-silenced cells was largely due to down-regulation of the antiapoptotic protein Bcl-xL. Moreover, WT1 expression strongly correlated with overexpression of Bcl-xL in AML cell lines and blasts from AML patients. Furthermore, we found that WT1 transactivates Bcl-xL by directly binding to its promoter. We previously showed that WT1 is a novel client protein of heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90). Consistent with this, pharmacological inhibition of Hsp90 resulted in reduced WT1 and Bcl-xL expression leading to increased sensitivity of leukemia cells to TRAIL-mediated apoptosis. Collectively, our results suggest that WT1-dependent Bcl-xL overexpression contributes to TRAIL resistance in myeloid leukemias.

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