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Cancer Cell. 2006 Nov;10(5):389-99.

The BH3 mimetic ABT-737 targets selective Bcl-2 proteins and efficiently induces apoptosis via Bak/Bax if Mcl-1 is neutralized.

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The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, 1G Royal Parade, Parkville, Victoria 3050, Australia.


Since apoptosis is impaired in malignant cells overexpressing prosurvival Bcl-2 proteins, drugs mimicking their natural antagonists, BH3-only proteins, might overcome chemoresistance. Of seven putative BH3 mimetics tested, only ABT-737 triggered Bax/Bak-mediated apoptosis. Despite its high affinity for Bcl-2, Bcl-x(L), and Bcl-w, many cell types proved refractory to ABT-737. We show that this resistance reflects ABT-737's inability to target another prosurvival relative, Mcl-1. Downregulation of Mcl-1 by several strategies conferred sensitivity to ABT-737. Furthermore, enforced Mcl-1 expression in a mouse lymphoma model conferred resistance. In contrast, cells overexpressing Bcl-2 remained highly sensitive to ABT-737. Hence, ABT-737 should prove efficacious in tumors with low Mcl-1 levels, or when combined with agents that inactivate Mcl-1, even to treat those tumors that overexpress Bcl-2.

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