Targeting MCL-1 sensitizes FLT3-ITD-positive leukemias to cytotoxic therapies

Blood Cancer J. 2012 Mar;2(3):e60. doi: 10.1038/bcj.2012.5. Epub 2012 Mar 9.


Patients suffering from acute myeloid leukemias (AML) bearing FMS-like tyrosine kinase-3-internal tandem duplications (FLT3-ITD) have poor outcomes following cytarabine- and anthracyclin-based induction therapy. To a major part this is attributed to drug resistance of FLT3-ITD-positive leukemic cells. Against this background, we have devised an antibody array approach to identify proteins, which are differentially expressed by hematopoietic cells in relation to activated FLT3 signaling. Selective upregulation of antiapoptotic myeloid cell leukemia-1 (MCL-1) was found in FLT3-ITD-positive cell lines and primary mononuclear cells from AML patients as compared with FLT3-wild-type controls. Upregulation of MCL-1 was dependent on FLT3 signaling as confirmed by its reversion upon pharmacological inhibition of FLT3 activity by the kinase inhibitor PKC412 as well as siRNA-mediated suppression of FLT3. Heterologously expressed MCL-1 substituted for FLT3 signaling by conferring resistance of hematopoietic cells to antileukemia drugs such as cytarabine and daunorubicin, and to the proapoptotic BH3 mimetic ABT-737. Conversely, suppression of endogenous MCL-1 by siRNA or by flavopiridol treatment sensitized FLT3-ITD-expressing hematopoietic cells to cytotoxic and targeted therapeutics. In conclusion, MCL-1 is an essential effector of FLT3-ITD-mediated drug resistance. Therapeutic targeting of MCL-1 is a promising strategy to overcome drug resistance in FLT3-ITD-positive AML.