Background: Lenalidomide has broad clinical activity in hematologic malignancies, including lymphoid malignancies (multiple myeloma (MM), non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, B cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia) and myeloid malignancies (myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML)). Lenalidomide’s molecular mechanism involves modulation of the cullin 4 RING E3 ubiquitin ligase complex (CRL4-CRBN), with downstream effects on protein homeostasis. The binding of lenalidomide to CRL4-CRBN promotes ubiquitination and degradation of Aiolos and Ikaros in B cell lineages (MM, lymphoma), and regulation of Ikaros has been shown to be a key effector of lenalidomide’s anti-myeloma tumoricidal and T cell immunomodulatory activities. Multiple mechanisms of clinical efficacy have been hypothesized for lenalidomide activity in del(5q) MDS; however, lenalidomide-regulated substrates of therapeutic relevance to myeloid malignancies have not been defined. We undertook a proteomics approach to identify such substrates.

Methods: Changes in global cellular protein levels were measured by tandem-mass-tagged proteomics in a del(5q) MDS cell line (MDS-L) and an AML cell line (HNT-34), following treatment with vehicle or 10 uM lenalidomide for 8, 24 and 72 hours. Western blot analysis was used to subsequently validate proteins that were differentially regulated in these lenalidomide-sensitive cell lines. Sensitivity to lenalidomide treatment in a panel of myeloid cancer cell lines was evaluated by tritiated thymidine and/or BrdU assays.

Results: Across a panel of myeloid cancer cell lines evaluated for sensitivity to lenalidomide, HNT-34 and MDS-L cells were the most sensitive to lenalidomide, with EC50’s of 0.6 and 1.5 µM, respectively, while other cell lines were predominantly insensitive (EC50 > 10 µM). Proteomic analysis of lenalidomide-regulated proteins in MDS-L cells revealed Ikaros as the most down-regulated protein at 72 hrs (5.3 fold), and CK1α was the second most down-regulated protein (2.8 fold). The decrease of Ikaros and CK1α proteins by lenalidomide was confirmed by Western blot analysis in MDS-L and HNT-34 cells. Ikaros protein levels were reduced by lenalidomide in cell lines that were sensitive or insensitive to lenalidomide, suggesting that modulation of other proteins may be responsible for lenalidomide sensitivity of myeloid cancer cells. Ikaros levels were also decreased by a CRBN-binding glutarimide analog in HNT-34 cells, which were insensitive to the analog, further suggesting that Ikaros was not a substrate of consequence to sensitivity. In contrast, an initial study of five cell lines showed that lenalidomide promoted the greatest degradation of CK1a in the most sensitive lines (HNT-34, MDS-L), but did not degrade CK1a in the most insensitive line (MOLM-13). Mechanistic studies addressing CK1α regulation in HNT-34 cells revealed that CK1α protein levels were reduced by lenalidomide treatment in a time- and dose-dependent manner, with maximal reduction of 3.3 fold observed at 4 hrs using 10 µM lenalidomide, and CK1α degradation observed with lenalidomide at a dose as low as 0.1 µM. Pre-treating HNT-34 cells with the proteasome inhibitor MG-132 stabilized CK1α protein levels in the presence of lenalidomide, demonstrating proteasome-dependent degradation. A competition experiment performed by pre-treating HNT-34 cells with the glutarimide analog that binds CRBN, but does not result in the degradation of CK1a, resulted in CK1α protein stabilization in the presence of lenalidomide, demonstrating CRBN-dependence of the lenalidomide-induced degradation. Degradation of CK1α was also observed in primary peripheral blood mononuclear cells of AML patients treated with lenalidomide.

Conclusions: CK1α is a lenalidomide-induced substrate of CRL4-CRBN, with initial links to myeloid cancer cell line sensitivity to lenalidomide. As the CSNK1A1 gene is located at 5q32, a commonly deleted region in MDS, further reduction of haplo-insufficient expression of CK1α is a potential mechanism of sensitivity to lenalidomide in del(5q) MDS. The therapeutic relevance of CK1α regulation by lenalidomide in AML requires further exploration. CK1α gene silencing and additional correlative studies of lenalidomide-induced degradation of CK1α are ongoing to define mechanistic links to myeloid cancer cell sensitivity to lenalidomide.


Hollenbach:Celgene: Employment, Equity Ownership. Lu:Celgene Corp: Employment. Gandhi:Celgene Corp: Employment, Equity Ownership. Chopra:Celgene Corp: Employment, Equity Ownership. MacBeth:Celgene: Employment, Equity Ownership.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.