Introduction: Interferon-alpha (IFN) plays a role in the management of different neoplasias, particularly those of hematological origin. The mechanisms of action of IFN are still poorly understood and the individual response is unpredictable. In the present study, the pattern of intracellular gene expression following in vitro and in vivo exposure of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) cells to IFN was evaluated and correlated with the response to in vivo treatment with IFN.
Materials and methods: CML patients in different phases of the disease were studied. The pattern of expression of two IFN-inducible proteins involved in IFN-mediated biological activities, the p91 and p84 proteins (STAT1alpha and STAT1beta), components of the IFN-stimulated gene factor 3 (ISGF3) complex and the enzyme 2'-5' oligoadenylate synthetase (2'-5' OASE) were investigated by Western blot in peripheral blood mononuclear cells stimulated or not in vitro by IFN.
Results and conclusions: In 6/9 patients evaluated before starting treatment, STAT1 was expressed either constitutively or after in vitro stimulation by IFN. In three cases, STAT1 remained negative even after in vitro activation. The pattern of protein expression correlated with the subsequent hematological response to prolonged in vivo IFN administration: the presence of STAT1 being associated with the clinical response to IFN and the absence and non-inducibility of STAT1 with resistance to IFN. This was further substantiated by studies carried out in ten patients analyzed at the time of a documented clinico-hematological response or resistance to the in vivo administration of IFN. Finally, in order to establish whether the pattern of response to IFN treatment could be predicted at diagnosis, cells cyropreserved at diagnosis from patients with a documented complete response, confirmed also by cytogenetic negativity, or resistance, were studied. While complete responders proved STAT1 positive, none of the four resistant cases ever expressed STAT1. The expression of 2'-5' OASE did not correlate with the clinical response to IFN. This study documents the pivotal role of STAT1 in the in vitro and in vivo responses of CML cells to IFN. The constitutive or induced presence or absence of STAT1 shows a predictive correlation with the response or resistance to treatment with IFN and could be utilized to identify, at diagnosis, resistant patients who may be spared an expensive and unnecessary prolonged IFN administration.