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Leuk Lymphoma. 1996 Oct;23(3-4):187-201.

Chlorambucil in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: mechanism of action.

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Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology, Manitoba Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation, Winnipeg, Canada.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most common leukemia in Western countries but the clinical presentation and rate of disease progression are highly variable. When treatment is required the most commonly used therapy is the nitrogen mustard alkylating agent, chlorambucil (CLB), with or without prednisone. Although CLB has been used in the treatment of CLL for forty years the exact mechanism of action of this agent in CLL is still unclear. Studies in proliferating model tumor systems have demonstrated that CLB can bind to a variety of cellular structures such as membranes, RNA, proteins and DNA; however, DNA crosslinking appears to be most important for antitumor activity in these systems. In addition, a number of different mechanisms can contribute to CLB resistance in these tumor models including increased drug metabolism, DNA repair and CLB detoxification resulting from elevated levels of glutathione (GSH) and glutathione S-transferase (GST) activity. However, unlike tumor models in vitro, CLL cells are generally not proliferating and studies in CLL cells have raised questions about the hypothesis that DNA crosslinking is the major mechanism of antitumor action for CLB in this disease. CLB induces apoptosis in CLL cells and this appears to correlate with the clinical effects of this agent. Thus, alkylation of cellular targets other than DNA, which can also induce apoptosis, may contribute to the activity of CLB. Alterations in genes such as p53, mdm-2, bcl-2 and bax which control entry into apoptosis may cause drug resistance. Loss of wild-type p53 by mutation or deletion occurs in 10 to 15% of CLL patients and appears to correlate strongly with poor clinical response to CLB. The induction of apoptosis by CLB is paralleled by an increase in P53 and Mdm-2 but this increase in not observed in patients with p53 mutations indicating that with high drug concentrations CLB can produce cell death through P53 independent pathways. The level of Mdm-2 mRNA in the CLL cells is not a useful predictor of drug sensitivity. In addition, although Bax and Bcl-2 are important regulators of apoptosis and the levels of these proteins are elevated in CLL cells compared with normal B cells, the levels of Bax and Bcl-2, or the Bax:Bcl-2 ratio, are not important determinants of drug sensitivity in this leukemia. Finally, whereas CLB and nucleoside analogs may produce cell death in CLL by a P53 dependent pathway other agents, such as dexamethasone or vincristine, may act through P53-independent pathways.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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