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Oncogene. 2007 Sep 13;26(42):6184-93. Epub 2007 Apr 9.

Rituximab inhibits the constitutively activated PI3K-Akt pathway in B-NHL cell lines: involvement in chemosensitization to drug-induced apoptosis.

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Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1747, USA.


Rituximab (chimeric anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody) is currently being used, alone or in combination with chemotherapy, in the treatment of B-non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (B-NHL). We have reported that rituximab treatment of B-NHL cell lines sensitizes the drug-resistant tumor cells to apoptosis by various chemotherapeutic drugs and chemosensitization was, in large part, owing to the selective inhibition of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-(XL) gene product. The constitutive activation of the Akt pathway in B-NHL results in overexpression and functional activation of Bcl-(xL). Hence, we hypothesized that rituximab-induced inhibition of Bcl-(xL) expression and chemosensitization may result, in part, from its inhibitory activity of the Akt pathway. This hypothesis was tested using the drug-resistant Ramos and Daudi B-NHL cell lines. Time kinetic analysis revealed that treatment with rituximab inhibited phosphorylation of Akt, but not unphosphorylated Akt, and the inhibition was first detected at 6 h post-rituximab treatment. Similar time kinetics revealed rituximab-induced inhibition of p-PDK1, p-Bad, p-IKKalpha/beta and p-Ikappabetaalpha and no inhibition of unphosphorylated proteins. In addition, rituximab treatment resulted in significant increase of Bcl-(xL)-Bad heterodimeric complexes as compared to untreated cells. The role of the Akt pathway in the regulation of resistance was corroborated by the use of the Akt inhibitor, LY294002, and by transfection with siRNA Akt. Treatment of tumor cells with LY294002 or with Akt siRNA, but not control siRNA, resulted in inhibition of Bcl-(xL) expression and sensitization to drug-induced apoptosis. Although rituximab did not inhibit the Akt pathway nor sensitized the rituximab-resistant Ramos RR1 clone, treatment with LY294002 or Akt siRNA sensitized the clone to drug-induced apoptosis. The present findings demonstrate for the first time that rituximab inhibits the constitutively activated Akt pathway in B-NHL cell lines, and this inhibition contributes to sensitization of drug-resistant cells to apoptosis by chemotherapeutic drugs. The findings also identify the Akt pathway as target for therapeutic intervention in the reversal of rituximab and drug-resistant B-NHL.

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