One of the hallmarks of cancer is a resistance to the induction of programmed cell death that is mediated by selection of cells with elevated expression of anti-apoptotic members of the BCL-2 family. To counter this resistance, new therapeutic agents known as BH3-mimetic small molecules are in development with the goal of antagonizing the function of anti-apoptotic molecules and promoting the induction of apoptosis. To facilitate the testing and modeling of BH3-mimetic agents, we have developed a powerful system for evaluation and screening of agents both in culture and in immune competent animal models by engineering mouse leukemic cells and re-programming them to be dependent on exogenously expressed human anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family members. Here we demonstrate that this panel of cell lines can determine the specificity of BH3-mimetics to individual anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family members (BCL-2, BCL-XL, BCL-W, BFL-1, and MCL-1), demonstrate whether cell death is due to the induction of apoptosis (BAX and BAK-dependent), and faithfully assess the efficacy of BH3-mimetic small molecules in pre-clinical mouse models. These cells represent a robust and valuable pre-clinical screening tool for validating the efficacy, selectivity, and on-target action of BH3-mimetic agents.
Keywords: BCL-2; BH3 mimetics; apoptosis; cancer model; drug development.