Excess of NPM-ALK oncogenic signaling promotes cellular apoptosis and drug dependency

Oncogene. 2016 Jul 21;35(29):3854-3865. doi: 10.1038/onc.2015.456. Epub 2015 Dec 14.


Most of the anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL) cases carry the t(2;5; p23;q35) that produces the fusion protein NPM-ALK (nucleophosmin-anaplastic lymphoma kinase). NPM-ALK-deregulated kinase activity drives several pathways that support malignant transformation of lymphoma cells. We found that in ALK-rearranged ALCL cell lines, NPM-ALK was distributed in equal amounts between the cytoplasm and the nucleus. Only the cytoplasmic portion was catalytically active in both cell lines and primary ALCL, whereas the nuclear portion was inactive because of heterodimerization with NPM1. Thus, about 50% of the NPM-ALK is not active and sequestered as NPM-ALK/NPM1 heterodimers in the nucleus. Overexpression or relocalization of NPM-ALK to the cytoplasm by NPM genetic knockout or knockdown caused ERK1/2 (extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases 1 and 2) increased phosphorylation and cell death through the engagement of an ATM/Chk2- and γH2AX (phosphorylated H2A histone family member X)-mediated DNA-damage response. Remarkably, human NPM-ALK-amplified cell lines resistant to ALK tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) underwent apoptosis upon drug withdrawal as a consequence of ERK1/2 hyperactivation. Altogether, these findings indicate that an excess of NPM-ALK activation and signaling induces apoptosis via oncogenic stress responses. A 'drug holiday' where the ALK TKI treatment is suspended could represent a therapeutic option in cells that become resistant by NPM-ALK amplification.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Crizotinib
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Synergism
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrazines / pharmacology
  • Lymphoma, Large-Cell, Anaplastic / genetics
  • Lymphoma, Large-Cell, Anaplastic / metabolism*
  • Lymphoma, Large-Cell, Anaplastic / pathology
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, SCID
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nucleophosmin
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion / genetics
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion / metabolism*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Pyrazoles / pharmacology
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • RNA Interference
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Transplantation, Heterologous
  • Triazoles / pharmacology


  • H2AX protein, human
  • Histones
  • Hydrazines
  • NPM1 protein, human
  • Npm1 protein, mouse
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyrazoles
  • Pyridines
  • Triazoles
  • Nucleophosmin
  • selinexor
  • Crizotinib
  • p80(NPM-ALK) protein
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases