Background and purpose: Although the ongoing clinical trials of ABT-263 and ABT-199 in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) have indicated that BH3 mimetics hold considerable promise, understanding the mechanism of CLL resistance to BH3 mimetics remains a challenge.
Experimental approach: The LD50 values of ABT-737, ABT-263 and ABT-199 in a number of primary CLL cells from 40 patients, were determined. The levels of Bcl-2 family proteins, including phosphorylated Bcl-2 (pBcl-2) and their interactions were measured by immunoblotting and co-immunoprecipitation. In vitro binding assays were performed by isothermal titration calorimetry and ELISA. BH3 profiling in isolated mitochondria was analysed.
Key results: The ratio of (Mcl-1 + pBcl-2) to Bcl-2 expression provided the most significant predictive marker for the cytotoxic potential of ABT-737, ABT-263 and ABT-199 in the panel of CLL samples. Mechanistically, pBcl-2 inhibited the effects of the ABT compounds on the displacement of Bax and Bim from Bcl-2, thereby suppressing mitochondrial apoptosis. The ABT compounds exhibited 100-300-fold lower binding affinity to the glutamic acid, phosphomimetic, mutant of Bcl-2 (T69E, S70E and S87E; EEE-Bcl-2). BH3 peptides exhibited different rank orders of binding affinities to full-length WT-Bcl-2 and full-length EEE-Bcl-2.
Conclusions and implications: Our study suggested that a structural alteration in the BH3-binding groove was induced by phosphorylation of Bcl-2. Our data also provided a framework to overcome resistance of CLL cells to the ABT compounds by combining pBcl-2 kinase inhibitors with the ABT compounds.
© 2015 The British Pharmacological Society.