A number of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) have been developed to treat a variety of malignancies. However, continuous treatment with TKIs may select for resistant clones as has been seen with Gleevec treatment of CML. To study resistance to TKIs targeting FLT3, a receptor tyrosine kinase that is frequently mutated in AML, we developed resistant human cell lines through prolonged co-culture with FLT3 TKIs. Both FLT3 TKI sensitive and resistant cell lines exhibit inhibition of FLT3 phosphorylation upon FLT3 TKI treatment. However, FLT3 TKI resistant cell lines and primary samples often show continued activation of downstream PI3K/Akt and/or Ras/MEK/MAPK signaling pathways as well as continued expression of genes involved in FLT3-mediated cellular transformation. Inhibition of these pathways restores partial sensitivity to FLT3 TKIs. Mutational screening of FLT3 TKI resistant cell lines and primary samples failed to reveal any mutations in FLT3 or in 100 kinases/phosphatases tested but did reveal activating N-Ras mutations that were not present in the parental FLT3 TKI sensitive cell line. Taken together, these data indicate that FLT3 TKI resistant cells most frequently become FLT3 independent due to activation of parallel signaling pathways that provide compensatory survival / proliferation signals when FLT3 is inhibited. IMC-EB10, an unconjugated monoclonal antibody against FLT3, is still cytotoxic to FLT3 TKI resistant clones in vivo. An approach combining FLT3 TKIs with anti-FLT3 antibodies may prove superior and result in reduced chances of developing resistance.

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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