Imatinib mesylate (STI571), a specific inhibitor of the BCR/ABL tyrosine kinase, exhibits potent antileukemic effects in the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). However, the precise mechanisms by which inhibition of BCR/ABL activity results in pharmacological responses remain unknown. BCR/ABL-positive human CML cells resistant to doxorubicin K562doxoR and their sensitive K562doxoS counterparts were used to determine the mechanism by which the STI571 inhibitor may overcome drug resistance. K562 wild type cells and CCRF-CEM lymphoblastic leukemia cells without BCR/ABL were used as controls. We examined kinetics of DNA repair after cell treatment with the drug by the alkaline comet assay. MTT assay was used to estimate resistance against doxorubicin and Western Blot analysis with Crk-L antibody was performed to evaluate BCR/ABL kinase inhibition by STI571. We provide evidence that treatment of CML-derived BCR/ABL-expressing leukemia K562 cells with STI571 results in the inhibition of DNA repair and abrogation of the resistance of these cells to doxorubicin. We found that doxorubicin-resistant K562doxoR cells exhibited accelerated kinetics of DNA repair in comparison to doxorubicin-sensitive K562doxoS cells. Inhibition of BCR/ABL kinase in K562doxoR cells with 1 μM STI571 decreased the kinetics of DNA repair and abrogated drug resistance. The results suggest that STI571-mediated inhibition of BCR/ABL kinase activity can affect the effectiveness of the DNA repair pathways, which in turn may enhance drug sensitivity of leukemia cells.

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