Glucocorticoids (GCs) cause cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in lymphoid cells which is exploited to treat lymphoid malignancies. The mechanisms of these anti-leukemic GC effects are, however, poorly understood. We previously defined a list of GC-regulated genes by expression profiling in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) during systemic GC monotherapy and in experimental systems of GC-induced apoptosis. PLZF/ZBTB16, a transcriptional repressor, was one of the most promising candidates derived from this screen. To investigate its role in the anti-leukemic GC effects, we performed overexpression and knock-down experiments in CCRF-CEM childhood ALL cells. Transgenic PLZF/ZBTB16 alone had no detectable effect on cell proliferation or survival, but reduced sensitivity to GC-induced apoptosis but not apoptosis induced by antibodies against Fas/CD95 or 3 different chemotherapeutics. Knock-down of ZBTB16 entailed a small, but significant, increase in cell death induction by GC. Affymetrix Exon array-based whole genome expression profiling revealed that PLZF/ZBTB16 induction did not significantly alter the expression profile, however, it interfered with the regulation of numerous GC response genes, including BCL2L11/Bim, which has previously been shown to be responsible for cell death induction in CCRF-CEM cells. Thus, the protective effect of PLZF/ZBTB16 can be attributed to interference with transcriptional regulation by GC.
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