Rituximab-induced inhibition of antiapoptotic cell survival pathways: implications in chemo/immunoresistance, rituximab unresponsiveness, prognostic and novel therapeutic interventions

Oncogene. 2007 May 28;26(25):3629-36. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1210365.


Rituximab (chimeric anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody) is the first Food and Drug Administration approved antitumor antibody and is used in the treatment of B-non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (B-NHL). It is used as single monotherapy or in combination with chemotherapy and has improved the treatment outcome of patients with B-NHL. The in vivo mechanisms of rituximab-mediated antitumor effects include antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC), complement-dependent cell cytotoxicity (CDC), growth-inhibition and apoptosis. A subset of patients does not initially respond to rituximab and several responsive patients develop resistance to further rituximab treatment. The mechanism of rituximab unresponsiveness is not known. Besides the above-postulated mechanisms, rituximab has been shown to trigger the cells via CD-20. Studies performed with B-NHL cell lines as model systems revealed several novel mechanisms of rituximab-mediated effects that are involved in chemo/immunosensitization and the development of resistance to rituximab. Rituximab has been shown to inhibit the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase, nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB), extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK 1/2) and AKT antiapoptotic survival pathways, all of which result in upregulation of phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome ten and Raf kinase inhibitor protein and in the downregulation of antiapoptotic gene products (particularly Bcl-2, Bcl-(xL) and Mcl-1), and resulting in chemo/immunosensitization. Further, rituximab treatment inhibits the overexpressed transcription repressor Yin Yang 1 (YY1), which negatively regulates Fas and DR5 expression and its inhibition leads to sensitization to Fas ligand and tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand-induced apoptosis. Rituximab-resistant clones were generated as model to examine the mechanism of in vivo rituximab unresponsiveness. These clones showed reduced expression of CD20 and hyperactivation of the above antiapoptotic signaling pathways and failure of rituximab to trigger the cells leading to inhibition of ADCC, CDC and chemo/immunosensitization. Interference with the hyperactivated pathways with various pharmacological and proteasome inhibitors reversed resistance. Furthermore, the above findings have identified several gene products that can serve as new prognostic/diagnostic biomarkers as well as targets for therapeutic intervention in B-NHL.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell / immunology
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell / metabolism
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell / pathology*
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell / therapy*
  • Prognosis
  • Rituximab


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Murine-Derived
  • Rituximab