Glucocorticoid-resistant B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia displays receptor tyrosine kinase activation

NPJ Genom Med. 2019 Apr 4;4:7. doi: 10.1038/s41525-019-0082-y. eCollection 2019.


The response of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) to dexamethasone predicts the long-term remission outcome. To explore the mechanisms of dexamethasone resistance in B cell ALL (B-ALL), we generated dexamethasone-resistant clones by prolonged treatment with dexamethasone. Using RNA-sequencing and high-throughput screening, we found that dexamethasone-resistant cells are dependent on receptor tyrosine kinases. Further analysis with phosphokinase arrays showed that the type III receptor tyrosine kinase FLT3 is constitutively active in resistant cells. Targeted next-generation and Sanger sequencing identified an internal tandem duplication mutation and a point mutation (R845G) in FLT3 in dexamethasone-resistant cells, which were not present in the corresponding sensitive clones. Finally, we showed that resistant cells displayed sensitivity to second-generation FLT3 inhibitors both in vitro and in vivo. Collectively, our data suggest that long-term dexamethasone treatment selects cells with a distinct genetic background, in this case oncogenic FLT3, and therefore therapies targeting FLT3 might be useful for the treatment of relapsed B-ALL patients.