In order to identify regulatory genes involved in the development of an apoptosis-resistant phenotype in patients with chemotherapy refractory B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) expression of apoptosis-regulating genes in B-CLL cells was quantified using cDNA arrays and RT-PCR. Data were obtained from and compared between 2 groups of B-CLL patients with either nonprogressive, indolent, previously untreated disease and with leukemic cells sensitive to in vitro fludarabine-induced apoptosis, referred to as sensitive B-CLL (sB-CLL) or with progressive, chemotherapy refractory disease and with leukemic cells resistant to in vitro fludarabine-induced apoptosis, referred to as resistant B-CLL (rB-CLL). By performing a supervised clustering of genes that most strongly discriminated between rB-CLL vs. sB-CLL a small group of genes was identified, where bfl-1 was the strongest discriminating gene (p < 0.05), with higher expression in rB-CLL. A group of apoptosis-regulating genes were modulated during induction of apoptosis by serum deprivation in vitro in a similar manner in all cases studied. However, bfl-1 was preferentially downregulated in sB-CLL as compared to rB-CLL (p < 0.05). We conclude that bfl-1 may be an important regulator of B-CLL apoptosis, which could contribute to disease progression and resistance to chemotherapy, and as such represent a future potential therapeutic target.
(c) 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.