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Mol Cancer Ther. 2011 Dec;10(12):2373-83. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-11-0326. Epub 2011 Oct 17.

The novel Bcl-2 inhibitor ABT-737 is more effective in hypoxia and is able to reverse hypoxia-induced drug resistance in neuroblastoma cells.

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Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology Group, Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, Manchester, United Kingdom.


Neuroblastoma is a common solid tumor of childhood and advanced disease carries a poor prognosis despite intensive multimodality therapy. Hypoxia is a common feature of solid tumors because of poorly organized tumor-induced neovasculature. Hypoxia is associated with advanced stage and poor outcome in a range of tumor types, and leads to resistance to clinically relevant cytotoxic agents in neuroblastoma and other pediatric tumors in vitro. Resistance to apoptosis is a common feature of tumor cells and leads to pleiotropic drug resistance, mediated by Bcl-2 family proteins. ABT-737 is a novel small-molecule inhibitor of Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L) that is able to induce apoptosis in a range of tumor types. Neuroblastoma cell lines are relatively resistant to ABT-737-induced apoptosis in normoxia, but in contrast to the situation with conventional cytotoxic agents are more sensitive in hypoxia. This sensitization is because of an increase in ABT-737-induced apoptosis and is variably dependent upon the presence of functional hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) α. In contrast to the situation in colon carcinoma and non-small cell lung cancer cells, hypoxia does not result in downregulation of the known ABT-737 resistance factor, Mcl-1, nor any other Bcl-2 family proteins. ABT-737 sensitizes neuroblastoma cells to clinically relevant cytotoxic agents under normal levels of oxygen, and importantly, this sensitization is maintained under hypoxia when neuroblastoma cells are resistant to these agents. Thus rational combinations of ABT-737 and conventional cytotoxics offer a novel approach to overcoming hypoxia-induced drug resistance in neuroblastoma.

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