Abstract 2354

Poster Board II-331

A defect in the programmed cell death, apoptosis, is implemented in the pathogenesis of CLL. About ten years ago, it became evident that patients with CLL can be divided into those with an indolent course of the leukaemia and those which suffer from a more aggressive disease, typically requiring frequent chemotherapy and ultimately develop a chemotherapy-refractory state. The latter group of patients aberrantly express the T-cell associated protein ZAP-70. The object of this study was to identify the molecular differences underlying the pathogenesis of these two CLL subgroups. To study differences in the apoptotic program we used primary CLL cells derived from untreated ZAP-70 negative and positive patients. Here we show that the expression of ZAP-70 enhances the signals associated with the B-cell receptor (BCR) and recruits protein kinase C-beta (PKC-beta) into lipid raft domains only in patients with an aggressive variant of the disease. Subsequently, PKC-beta is activated and shuttles from the plasma membrane into the mitochondria. By using co-immunoprecipitation experiments and PKC-beta specific small molecule inhibitors we unravel that the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2 and its antagonistic BH3-protein Bim are putative substrates for PKC-beta. PKC-beta mediated phosphorylation of Bcl-2 augments its anti-apoptotic function by increasing its ability to sequester more pro-apoptotic Bim. In addition, the phosphorylation of Bim by PKC-beta leads to its proteasomal degradation. Therefore, high levels of phospho-Bcl-2 and low levels of Bim are a hallmark of ZAP-70 positive, aggressive CLL. Importantly, posttranscriptional modifications of Bcl-2 seem to outweigh the absolute expression of Bcl-2 with respect to the suppression of apoptosis. We demonstrate that these cells are strongly protected from chemotherapy-induced cytotoxic stress. Our data indicate that the constitutive activation of PKC-beta is directly involved in the apoptotic defect in ZAP-70 positive CLL. We finally show that targeting PKC-beta is an attractive approach to the treatment of CLL patients. Enzastaurin is a PKC-beta specific inhibitor and currently tested in clinical phase I/II trials for cancer patients. Our data demonstrate that this compound is highly active in CLL cells and augments the cytotoxic effects of standard chemotherapeutic drugs. Our results provide evidence that the constitutive activation of PKC-beta is directly implicated in the pathogenesis of aggressive CLL by altering the function of the apoptosis-regulating proteins Bcl-2 and Bim. These changes confer cells to a more anti-apoptotic state with aggressiveness of the disease. Targeting PKC-beta with small-molecule inhibitors like Enzastaurin might offer a new therapeutic strategy to control or even cure CLL.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.