Background: At the molecular level, mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) is characterized by the deregulation of Bcl-2 family members (Mcl-1, BIM) and cell cycle (cyclin D1) regulatory proteins. Perhaps related to this, the clinical outcome of MCL continues to be poor specially for those patients with disease progression after high dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell rescue and/or BTK inhibitors, stressing the need to develop novel therapeutic strategies or optimize current available options. Venetoclax (V), a highly selective Bcl-2 inhibitor, has shown modest activity against relapsed/refractory MCL. Over-expression of Mcl-1 has been postulated to be a mechanism of resistance to V limiting its anti-tumor activity in subtypes of lymphoma including MCL. The lethality by proteasome inhibitors (PIs) has been associated with changes in the Bcl-2 family members (Bax, Noxa, Mcl-1 and Bcl-XL) in lymphoma pre-clinical models, making them ideal agents to combine with V. To this end, we studied the anti-tumor activity of combining PIs with V in MCL pre-clinical models. Materials and Methods: A panel cytarabine sensitive (Rec-1, Jeko, Granta, HBL-2, Z-138 and Mino) and resistant (araC) cell lines (Jeko araC, HBL-2 araC, and Mino araC) were exposed to V, Bortezomib (BTZ), carfilzomib (CFZ), or ixazomib (IXZ) for 24, 48 and 72 hours. Cell viability was calculated measuring the ATP content. IC50 drug concentrations were calculated for each agent. Subsequently, MCL cell lines were exposed to escalating doses of V (0.001uM-5uM) and CFZ (1.5625nM-50nM), BTZ (3.125nM-100nM) or IXZ (3.125nM-100nM). In addition, primary tumor cells isolated from B-cell lymphoma patients (N=21) including MCL patients were exposed to V +/- BTZ or CFZ for 48 hrs. Cell viability was determined by Cell Titerglo. Coefficient of synergy were calculated using CalcuSyn software program. Induction of apoptosis was detected by Annexin V/Propidium iodine staining and PARP cleavage. Changes in Bcl-2 and cell cycle regulatory proteins were evaluated by Western blotting in HBL-2 cells. For in vivo experiments, 6-8 weeks old severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mice were inoculated with 10x106 HBL-2 cells via tail vein injection (IV). Subsequently, SCID mice were treated with V (100mg/kg/dose via gastric lavage on days 3-7, 10-14 and 17-21) or IXZ (6mg/kg/dose IV days 3, 6, 10, 13, 17 and 20) or combination of both agents. A group of untreated animals was used as a control. Differences in survival were evaluated between treatment groups. Results: In vitro exposure of MCL cell lines to either V, BTZ, CFZ, and IXZ induced cell death in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Significant synergistic activity was observed by combining both V with CFZ or IXZ at known sub-therapeutic and therapeutic doses of individual agents measured by ATP content and apoptosis potential. Anti-tumor activity was observed in cytarabine sensitive and resistant cell lines. Similar findings were observed in primary tumor cells isolated from B-cell lymphoma patients. In vitro exposure of MCL cell lines with the lowest IC50 (HBL-2) to V and PIs (BTZ, CFZ, or IXZ) resulted in the upregulation of Noxa, BIM, Mcl-1 cleavage form (pro-apoptotic) and downregulation of Bcl-XL leading to PARP cleavage and apoptosis. In vivo treatment of MCL bearing SCID mice with V resulted in significant anti-tumor activity when compared to single agent IXZ treated or control animals. Of interest, MCL bearing SCID animals treated with V and IXZ exhibited a better disease control and the survival was longer than SCID animals treated with V or IXZ single agent (P<0.05). Conclusion: Our data suggests that V exhibits strong synergistic activity with PIs, especially with CFZ (in vitro) or IXZ (in vitro and in vivo). Together, our data supports the evaluation of V in combination with readily available novel PIs (IXZ or CFZ) in relapsed/refractory MCL. (Supported by LRF grant 555463, an NIH grant R01 CA136907-01A1 and a grant from The Roswell Park Cancer Institute Alliance Foundation)


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.