Abstract

Introduction:

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) represents the most prevalent type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas (B-NHL) in the Western hemisphere. While BCL2 gene deregulation was repeatedly associated with poor prognosis, the role of MCL1 in the biology of DLBCL remains largely unknown. ABT199 is a highly-selective inhibitor of BCL2 protein currently evaluated in clinical trials. Homoharringtonine (HHT) is a plant alkaloid and as a semisynthetic compound (omacetaxine) it was approved for the treatment of relapsed chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Anti-tumor activity of HHT includes downregulation of the anti-apoptotic protein MCL1.

Aim:

The aim of the project was to evaluate the preclinical anti-lymphoma efficacy of BCL2 and MCL1-targeting agents ABT199 and HHT in DLBCL.

Methods:

Immunophenotype of primary DLBCL samples was determined by immunohistochemistry (IHC) using the Hans algorithm. Sensitivity of DLBCL cell lines to ABT199 and HHT was determined by Annexin V-based apoptotic assay and WST8-based cell proliferation assay. DLBCL clones with downregulation of selected anti-apoptotic proteins were derived using pLKO1-based lentiviral particles containing shRNAs against BCL2, BCL-XL and MCL1. For upregulation, BCL2, BCL-XL and MCL1 were cloned in the lentiviral expression vector pCDHNeo and the prepared lentiviral particles were used for the transduction of DLBCL cell lines.

Results:

We analyzed molecular mechanisms of cytotoxic activity of HHT in 7 DLBCL cell lines, and confirmed decreased expression of MCL1 protein in all cases. By semi-quantitative protein expression analysis (western blot or IHC) we demonstrated that BCL-XL and MCL1 were detectable in all DLBCL cell lines (n=18) and primary samples (n=114, GCB=51, ABC=63), while BCL2 was not detectable in 6 out of 18 DLBCL cell lines and 32 out of 114 primary DLBCL samples. 8 out of 12 BCL2-positive DLBCL cell lines were sensitive to 1 microM ABT199 (i.e. did not survive 1 microM ABT199 by standard proliferation assay). In contrary, 6 out of 6 BCL2-negative DLBCL cell lines were resistant to 1 microM ABT199. 11 out of 12 BCL2-positive DLBCL cell lines were sensitive to 30 nM HHT (considered a steady-state plasma level in CML patients treated with HHT). 5 out of 6 BCL2-negative DLBCL cell lines were sensitive to 30 nM HHT. Significant drug synergism between ≤1 microM ABT199 and ≤ 30 nM HHT was observed in 8 out of 12 BCL2-positive, but only in 1 out of 6 BCL2-negative DLBCL cell lines.

We demonstrated that high expression of BCL2 positively correlated with sensitivity to ABT-199, irrespective of expression levels of BCL-XL and MCL1. Expression levels of BCL2 and BCL-XL negatively correlated with sensitivity to HHT. Expression level of MCL1 did not correlate with sensitivity to HHT.

Both targeted downregulation and transgenic overexpression of BCL-XL in selected DLBCL cell lines confirmed that the expression of BCL-XL negatively correlates with sensitivity to HHT (but not to ABT199). While increase in sensitivity to HHT was observed in 3 out of 3 DLBCL cell lines with targeted knock-down of BCL2, increase in sensitivity to ABT199 was observed only in 1 out of these 3 DLBCL cell lines. Targeted knockdown of MCL1 was associated with increased sensitivity to HHT in 1 out of 2 DLBCL cell lines, but with no change of sensitivity to ABT199.

Conclusions:

HHT is a promising anti-DLBCL agent in both BCL2-positive and BCL2-negative cases. ABT199, as a single-agent or in combination with HHT, effectively eliminates BCL2-positive DLBCL cells. Based on the observed data two biological categories of DLBCL might be assumed: BCL2-dependent (ABT199-sensitive, HHT-sensitive) and MCL1-dependent (ABT199-resistant, HHT-sensitive) DLBCL.

Grant support: IGA-MZ: NT13201-4/2012, GACR14-19590S, UNCE 204021, SVV-2013-266509, PRVOUK P24/LF1/3, GA-UK 1270214

Disclosures

No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes

*

Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.