Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL) is a malignancy of mature B-cells. MCL has a poor prognosis and a limited response to traditional chemotherapy. Bortezomib (BZM), a new powerful inhibitor of the proteasome, can induce responses in up to 50% of relapsed MCL patients, suggesting that in at least half of the patients the lymphoma cells are intrinsically resistant to BZM or rapidly develop resistance during single agent therapy. To investigate possible mechanisms of BZM resistance, we cultured MCL cell lines continuously in sub-lethal concentrations of BZM that were then gradually increased. Resistance was slow to develop taking several months for truly resistant clones to grow out. We generated a bortezomib resistant (BR) clone of HBL-2 with an IC50 of 30nM compared to 5nM in the parental clone and several BR subclones of Jeko-1, the most resistant of which had an IC50 of 200nM compared to 3nM for the parental clone. All BR subclones also showed decreased sensitivity to three other proteasome inhibitors: MG-132, Lactacystin, and NLVS. The increase in IC50 to these drugs was between 3 and 8-fold, consistent with more off-target effects of these drugs compared to BZM. BAY11-7082, an inhibitor of NF-kB signaling, maintained its activity against the resistant cells. Resistance to BZM, once acquired, has remained stable over several months. This is remarkable because the resistant subclones grow significantly slower than the parental lines, even after having been removed from selection for extended periods of time. Consistent with slower cell proliferation, we found reduced Cyclin D1 protein expression in the BZM resistant Jeko clones; however, mRNA levels were comparable to the parental line, indicating that changes in Cyclin D1 protein translation and/or stability may be responsible for the decreased proliferation. BZM resistance has been associated with up-regulation of proteasome components and heat-shock proteins. Indeed, in the resistant HBL-2 subclone we found marked upregulation of two proteasome components (PSMA5 and PSMC1) and of Hsp70 by RT-PCR, but there was only a small change in Hsp70 protein expression. Nevertheless, upregulation of these genes could be part a more global gene expression response as seen with ER-stress and could thus reflect an adaptive change to BZM in the HBL-2 BR subclone. All three Jeko BR clones in contradistinction showed only minor changes in PSMA5, PSMC1 and Hsp70 mRNA expression and surprisingly had markedly reduced Hsp70 protein levels. Thus, in these subclones, BR resistance appears to correlate primarily with changes affecting cell cycle control. We conclude that resistance to BZM may be determined by several mechanisms that affect cell cycle control as well as expression of proteasome components and heat-shock proteins. While the slow development of resistance suggests adaptive changes, its persistence over time is more consistent with mutations or other genomic alterations that are not readily reversible. Ongoing studies aim to more precisely define the basis for BZM resistance in MCL.

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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