Generally in cancers, high expression of anti-apoptotic proteins induced by oncogenic signaling pathways is a major cause for treatment failure. Previously, we have demonstrated that Hedgehog (Hh) signaling is activated and functional in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and that its inhibition, using the Smoothened (SMO) inhibitor cyclopamine-KAAD, induces apoptosis in cell lines of DLBCL of activated B-cell (ABC) subtype and cell cycle arrest (G1-phase) in those of germinal center (GC) subtype. Induction of apoptosis in ABC-DLBCL was due to decrease of BCL2 expression (protein and mRNA levels), a direct target of Hh signaling (Leukemia 2010;24:1025–36). We also found that BCL2 is upregulated in the tumor cells in the presence of stroma and that Hh inhibition abrogates this upregulation (Oncogene 2011, in press). Here, we explored the possibility of overcoming resistance to apoptosis-induced by Hh inhibition in GC-DLBCL using a combination of the SMO inhibitor “Hh antagonist” (Genentech Inc) with the BH3 mimetic ABT-737 (Abbot laboratories) in a panel of 5 GC type DLBCL cell lines, 4 of them with the t(14:18)(q32;q21) (DOHH2, SUDHL4, Toledo and OCI-LY19) and one without the translocation (HT). ABT-737 is a functional inhibitor of three major anti-apoptotic proteins of the BCL2 family (BCL2, BCL-xL and BCL-W). Combinatorial treatments were performed with increasing concentrations of the Hh antagonist (2.5, 5.0 and 7.5 μM) and with variable but minimal lethal doses of ABT-737 (inducing cell death less than 20%). Using cell viability, apoptosis (annexin-V) and cell cycle based assays, we found that the combined treatments resulted in a additive/synergistic decrease of cell viability and increase of apoptosis in comparison to the treatment with the Hh antagonist alone. In contrast to ABC type DLBCL cell lines, in DLBCL cells with t(14;18), Hh antagonist did not result in decrease expression of BCL2, BCL-xL and BCL-W indicating that the additive effect of ABT-737 was due to their functional inhibition and not by suppressing expression levels of these proteins. On the other hand, treatments with the Hh antagonist resulted in a concentration dependent decrease of BCL2 protein levels in HT cells. In summary, our data confirm that in the presence the t(14;18), inhibition of SMO does not result in decrease of BCL2 expression. In these cases, concomitant inhibition of BCL2 function and SMO is needed to induce apoptosis. Combined inhibition of Hh signaling and BCL2 function may have a therapeutic value for lymphomas with the t(14;18)(q32;q21).
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.