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Leukemia. 2019 Mar 14. doi: 10.1038/s41375-019-0442-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Inhibition of SYK or BTK augments venetoclax sensitivity in SHP1-negative/BCL-2-positive diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

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Molecular Hematology, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Trieste, Italy.
Department of Immunology, Medical University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.
Institute of Oncology Research, Bellinzona, Switzerland.
Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.
Dept. of Molecular Medicine and Surgery, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.
Molecular Hematology, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Trieste, Italy.


The BCL-2 inhibitor venetoclax has only limited activity in DLBCL despite frequent BCL-2 overexpression. Since constitutive activation of the B cell receptor (BCR) pathway has been reported in both ABC and GCB DLBCL, we investigated whether targeting SYK or BTK will increase sensitivity of DLBCL cells to venetoclax. We report that pharmacological inhibition of SYK or BTK synergistically enhances venetoclax sensitivity in BCL-2-positive DLBCL cell lines with an activated BCR pathway in vitro and in a xenograft model in vivo, despite the only modest direct cytotoxic effect. We further show that these sensitizing effects are associated with inhibition of the downstream PI3K/AKT pathway and changes in the expression of MCL-1, BIM, and HRK. In addition, we show that BCR-dependent GCB DLBCL cells are characterized by deficiency of the phosphatase SHP1, a key negative regulator of the BCR pathway. Re-expression of SHP1 in GCB DBLCL cells reduces SYK, BLNK, and GSK3 phosphorylation and induces corresponding changes in MCL1, BIM, and HRK expression. Together, these findings suggest that SHP1 deficiency is responsible for the constitutive activation of the BCR pathway in GCB DLBCL and identify SHP1 and BCL-2 as potential predictive markers for response to treatment with a venetoclax/BCR inhibitor combination.


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