Key Points

  • CK2 and IKAROS regulate chemoresistance to doxorubicin via repression of BCL2L1 (BCL-XL)

  • Combination treatment with CK2 inhibitor and doxorubicin have a synergistic therapeutic effect on high-risk B-ALL in vivo

High-risk B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) is an aggressive disease, often characterized by resistance to chemotherapy. A frequent feature of high-risk B-ALL is loss of function of the IKAROS (encoded by the IKZF1 gene) tumor suppressor. Here, we report that IKAROS regulates expression of the BCL2L1 gene (encodes the BCL-XL protein) in human B-ALL. Gain-of-function and loss-of-function experiments demonstrate that IKAROS binds to the BCL2L1 promoter, recruits histone deacetylase HDAC1, and represses BCL2L1 expression via chromatin remodeling. In leukemia, IKAROS' function is impaired by oncogenic Casein Kinase II (CK2), which is overexpressed in B-ALL. Phosphorylation by CK2 reduces IKAROS binding and recruitment of HDAC1 to the BCL2L1 promoter. This results in a loss of IKAROS-mediated repression of BCL2L1 and increased expression of BCL-XL. Increased expression of BCL-XL and/or CK2, as well as reduced IKAROS expression, are associated with resistance to doxorubicin treatment. Molecular and pharmacological inhibition of CK2 with a specific inhibitor CX-4945, increases binding of IKAROS to the BCL2L1 promoter and enhances IKAROS-mediated repression of BCL2L1 in B-ALL. Treatment with CX-4945 increases sensitivity to doxorubicin in B-ALL, and reverses resistance to doxorubicin in multi-drug resistant B-ALL. Combination treatment with CX-4945 and doxorubicin show synergistic therapeutic effects in vitro and in preclinical models of high-risk B-ALL. Results reveal a novel signaling network that regulates chemoresistance in leukemia. These data lay the groundwork for clinical testing of a rationally-designed, targeted therapy that combines the CK2 inhibitor, CX-4945, with doxorubicin for the treatment of hematopoietic malignancies.

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