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Blood. 1998 May 1;91(9):3379-89.

Expression of apoptosis-regulating proteins in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: correlations with In vitro and In vivo chemoresponses.

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Burnham Institute, Cancer Research Center, La Jolla, CA, USA.


B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) represents a neoplastic disorder caused primarily by defective programmed cell death (PCD), as opposed to increased cell proliferation. Defects in the PCD pathway also contribute to chemoresistance. The expression of several apoptosis-regulating proteins, including the Bcl-2 family proteins Bcl-2, Bcl-XL, Mcl-1, Bax, Bak, and BAD; the Bcl-2-binding protein BAG-1; and the cell death protease Caspase-3 (CPP32), was evaluated by immunoblotting using 58 peripheral blood B-CLL specimens from previously untreated patients. Expression of Bcl-2, Mcl-1, BAG-1, Bax, Bak, and Caspase-3 was commonly found in circulating B-CLL cells, whereas the Bcl-XL and BAD proteins were not present. Higher levels of the anti-apoptotic protein Mcl-1 were strongly correlated with failure to achieve complete remission (CR) after single-agent therapy (fludarabine or chlorambucil) (P = .001), but the presence of only seven CRs among the 42 patients for whom follow-up data were available necessitates cautious interpretation of these observations. Higher levels of the anti-apoptotic protein BAG-1 were also marginally associated with failure to achieve CR (P = .04). Apoptosis-regulating proteins were not associated with patient age, sex, Rai stage, platelet count, hemoglobin (Hb) concentration, or lymph node involvement, although higher levels of Bcl-2 and a high Bcl-2:Bax ratio were correlated with high numbers (>10(5)/microL) of white blood cells (WBC) (P = .01; .007) and higher levels of Bak were weakly associated with loss of allelic heterozygosity at 13q14 (P = .04). On the basis of measurements of apoptosis induction by fludarabine using cultured B-CLL specimens, in vitro chemosensitivity data failed to correlate with in vivo clinical response rates (n = 42) and expression of the various apoptosis-regulating proteins. Although larger prospective studies are required before firm conclusions can be reached, these studies show the expression in B-CLLs of multiple apoptosis-regulating proteins and suggest that the relative levels of some of these, such as Mcl-1, may provide information about in vivo responses to chemotherapy. In vitro chemosensitivity data, however, do not appear to be particularly useful in predicting responses in B-CLL.

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