MEK Inhibition Sensitizes Precursor B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (B-ALL) Cells to Dexamethasone through Modulation of mTOR Activity and Stimulation of Autophagy.

Resistance to glucocorticosteroids (GCs) is a major adverse prognostic factor in B-ALL, but the molecular mechanisms leading to GC resistance are not completely understood. Herein, we sought to elucidate the molecular background of GC resistance in B-ALL and characterize the therapeutic potential of targeted intervention in these mechanisms. Using exploratory bioinformatic approaches, we found that resistant cells exhibited significantly higher expression of MEK/ERK (MAPK) pathway components. We found that GC-resistant ALL cell lines had markedly higher baseline activity of MEK and small-molecule MEK1/2 inhibitor selumetinib increased GCs-induced cell death. MEK inhibitor similarly increased in vitro dexamethasone activity in primary ALL blasts from 19 of 22 tested patients. To further confirm these observations, we overexpressed a constitutively active MEK mutant in GC-sensitive cells and found that forced MEK activity induced resistance to dexamethasone. Since recent studies highlight the role GC-induced autophagy upstream of apoptotic cell death, we assessed LC3 processing, MDC staining and GFP-LC3 relocalization in cells incubated with either DEX, SEL or combination of drugs. Unlike either drug alone, only their combination markedly increased these markers of autophagy. These changes were associated with decreased mTOR activity and blocked 4E-BP1 phosphorylation. In cells with silenced beclin-1 (BCN1), required for autophagosome formation, the synergy of DEX and SEL was markedly reduced. Taken together, we show that MEK inhibitor selumetinib enhances dexamethasone toxicity in GC-resistant B-ALL cells. The underlying mechanism of this interaction involves inhibition of mTOR signaling pathway and modulation of autophagy markers, likely reflecting induction of this process and required for cell death. Thus, our data demonstrate that modulation of MEK/ERK pathway is an attractive therapeutic strategy overcoming GC resistance in B-ALL patients. 

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S1008 Selumetinib (AZD6244) Selumetinib (AZD6244, ARRY-142886) is a potent, highly selective MEK inhibitor with IC50 of 14 nM for MEK1 and Kd value of 530 nM for MEK2. It also inhibits ERK1/2 phosphorylation with IC50 of 10 nM, no inhibition to p38α, MKK6, EGFR, ErbB2, ERK2, B-Raf, etc. Selumetinib suppresses cell proliferation, migration and trigger apoptosis. Phase 3. (486) (14)

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