Mer receptor tyrosine kinase is a therapeutic target in pre-B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Blood. 2013 Aug 29;122(9):1599-609. doi: 10.1182/blood-2013-01-478156. Epub 2013 Jul 16.


Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is currently treated with an intense regimen of chemotherapy yielding cure rates near 85%. However, alterations to treatment strategies using available drugs are unlikely to provide significant improvement in survival or decrease therapy-associated toxicities. Here, we report ectopic expression of the Mer receptor tyrosine kinase in pre-B-cell ALL (B-ALL) cell lines and pediatric patient samples. Inhibition of Mer in B-ALL cell lines decreased activation of AKT and MAPKs and led to transcriptional changes, including decreased expression of antiapoptotic PRKCB gene and increase in proapoptotic BAX and BBC3 genes. Further, Mer inhibition promoted chemosensitization, decreased colony-forming potential in clonogenic assays, and delayed disease onset in a mouse xenograft model of leukemia. Our results identify Mer as a potential therapeutic target in B-ALL and suggest that inhibitors of Mer may potentiate lymphoblast killing when used in combination with chemotherapy. This strategy could reduce minimal residual disease and/or allow for chemotherapy dose reduction, thereby leading to improved event-free survival and reduced therapy-associated toxicity for patients with B-ALL. Additionally, Mer is aberrantly expressed in numerous other malignancies suggesting that this approach may have broad applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Leukemic / drug effects
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Precursor B-Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / drug therapy*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / pharmacology
  • RNA, Small Interfering / therapeutic use
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • MERTK protein, human
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase