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Cell Death Dis. 2015 Jan 15;6:e1593. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2014.525.

MCL-1 and BCL-xL-dependent resistance to the BCL-2 inhibitor ABT-199 can be overcome by preventing PI3K/AKT/mTOR activation in lymphoid malignancies.

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1] Department of Cancer Biology, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH 44195, USA [2] Department of Pathology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.
Department of Cancer Biology, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH 44195, USA.
Department of Hematology and Oncology, Taussig Cancer Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH 44195, USA.
Department of Clinical Pathology, Institute of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH 44195, USA.


Overexpression of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family members is a hallmark of many lymphoid malignancies, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that can be targeted with small molecule inhibitors. ABT-199 is a rationally designed BCL-2 homology (BH)-3 mimetic that specifically binds to BCL-2, but not to MCL-1 and BCL-xL. Although the thrombocytopenia that occurs with navitoclax treatment has not been a problem with ABT-199, clinical trials in CLL could benefit by lowering the ABT-199 concentration through targeting other survival pathways. In this study, we investigated the mechanisms of resistance that develops to ABT-199 therapy by generating ABT-199-resistant (ABT199-R) cell lines via chronic exposure of NHL cell lines to ABT-199. Acquired resistance resulted in substantial AKT activation and upregulation of MCL-1 and BCL-xL levels that sequestered BIM. ABT199-R cells exhibited increased MCL-1 stability and failed to activate BAX in response to ABT-199. The ABT-199 acquired and inherent resistant cells were sensitized to treatment with ABT-199 by inhibitors of the PI3K, AKT, and mTOR pathways, NVP-BEZ235 and GS-1101. NVP-BEZ235, a dual inhibitor of p-AKT and mTOR, reduced MCL-1 levels causing BIM release from MCL-1 and BCL-xL, thus leading to cell death by BAX activation. The PI3Kδ inhibitor GS-1101 (idelalisib) downregulated MCL-1 and sensitized ABT199-R cells through AKT-mediated BAX activation. A genetic approach, through siRNA-mediated down-regulation of AKT, MCL-1, and BCL-xL, significantly decreased cell survival, demonstrating the importance of these cell survival factors for ABT-199 resistance. Our findings suggest a novel mechanism that modulates the expression and activity of pro-survival proteins to confer treatment resistance that could be exploited by a rational combination therapeutic regimen that could be effective for treating lymphoid malignancies.

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