Introduction: Burkitt lymphoma (BL) is the most common form of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (B-NHL) in children. Despite significant improvements in survival with de novo disease, treatment of relapsed or refractory BL remains a significant hurdle with survival in only about 20% of patients. Novel therapeutic approaches are necessary to improve outcomes in this group of childhood B-NHL patients with the worst prognosis. Recent literature has identified a high rate of recurrent mutations that result in activation of the PI3K/Akt pathway in BL and have implicated activation of PI3K/Akt in coordination with Myc in BL lymphomagenesis. Our laboratory has developed rituximab and chemotherapy resistant cell line models and subsequently found that these cell lines exhibit increased activation of Akt. We hypothesized that increased activation of Akt may be contributing to chemoresistance and that targeting the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway may increase chemoresponsiveness. To that end, we have investigated the effect of inhibiting the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway with either the PI3K-delta inhibitor idelalisib or the pan-PI3K/mTOR inhibitor BEZ-235 in cell line models of BL.

Methods: The in vitro effect of idelalisib or BEZ-235 was investigated in BL cell lines including Raji, Raji 2R and Raji 4RH (rituximab-chemotherapy resistant), Raji 7R and Raji 8RH (rituximab resistant), Ramos and Daudi. Cell viability following inhibitor exposure was assessed by Alamar blu and cell-titer glo assays. The effect of inhibitor exposure on cell cycle progression was determined by flow cytometry using propidium iodide staining. Inhibition of Akt activation following inhibitor exposure was determined using phospho-flow cytometry. The activity of cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents following inhibition by idelalisib or BEZ-235 was assessed using Alamar blu and cell titer glo assays.

Results: In vitro exposure of BL cell lines to idelalisib in concentrations from 0.1-100µM for 24, 48 or 72 hours resulted in a dose and time-dependent decrease in viable cells in all cell lines tested with IC50 concentrations of 60-300uM. Pre-treatment with the pan-caspase inhibitor QVD resulted in a small reversal in the decrease in cell viability suggesting only a minimal portion of the activity was caspase dependent. When induction of apoptosis was measured using annexin V-propidium iodide staining, little induction of apoptosis was observed with single agent idelalisib at concentrations up to 100uM. Determination of cell cycle progression following exposure to idelalisib at 1, 10, 50 or 100 uM for 24, 48 or 72 hours indicated a time and dose dependent cell cycle arrest in all cell lines. In chemotherapy-sensitive cell lines the arrest was primarily noted in G1, while the chemotherapy-resistant Raji 2R and Raji 4RH cell lines exhibited arrest primarily in G2/M. A significant reduction in cell viability following chemotherapy exposure for 48 hours was noted in chemotherapy resistant Raji 2R cells following pre-treatment for 48 hours with idelalisib 10uM compared to non-idelalisib exposed cells (doxorubicin 10uM 55% vs 77%, p<0.001; vincristine 0.05uM, 48% vs 61%, P<0.001). At higher idelalisib pre-treatment concentrations (50uM) additional synergistic activity was observed in Raji 2R cells (cisplatin 48% vs 61%, p<0.001; dexamethasone 67% vs 87%, p<0.01). To further assess the effect of dual inhibition of PI3K and mTOR, cell lines were exposed to the dual inhibitor BEZ-235. BEZ-235 exhibited a more potent decrease in cell viability compared to idelalisib with activity at nM concentrations. Unlike idelalisib, exposure to BEZ-235 resulted in significant induction of apoptosis by Annexin V-propidium iodide staining. BEZ-235 also exhibited synergistic activity in combination with chemotherapy in all cell lines. At equivalent dosing, BEZ-235 exposure resulted in a more significant decrease in Akt phosphorylation compared to idelalisib as determined by flow cytometry for p-Akt at Ser and Thr phosphorylation sites.

Conclusions: Chemotherapy sensitive and resistant BL cell line models are susceptible to inhibition of the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway. Targeted inhibition of this pathway leads to a decrease in AKT activation, decrease in cell viability, cell cycle arrest and an increase in sensitivity to cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents. Broader inhibition of both PI3K and mTOR is more effective than more targeted inhibition of PI3K-delta alone.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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