Anti-apoptotic MCL1 protein represents critical survival molecule for most Burkitt lymphomas and BCL2-negative diffuse large B-cell lymphomas

Mol Cancer Ther. 2021 Nov 2:molcanther.0511.2021. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-21-0511. Online ahead of print.


The pro-survival MCL1 protein is overexpressed in many cancers, including B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas (B-NHL). S63845 is a highly specific inhibitor of MCL1. We analyzed mechanisms of sensitivity/resistance to S63845 in preclinical models of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and Burkitt lymphoma (BL). Annexin V-based cytotoxic assays, western blot, protein co-immunoprecipitation, and cell clones with manipulated expression of BCL2 family proteins were used to analyze mechanisms of sensitivity to S63845. Experimental in vivo therapy with S63845 and/or venetoclax was performed using patient-derived xenografts (PDX) of treatment-refractory B-NHL. A subset of DLBCL and majority of BL cell lines were sensitive to S63845. The level of BCL2 protein expression was the major determinant of resistance to S63845: BCL2 serves as a buffer for pro-apoptotic proteins released from MCL1 upon exposure to S63845. While BCL2-negative lymphomas were effectively eliminated by single-agent S63845, its combination with venetoclax was synthetically lethal in BCL2-positive PDX models. Concerning MCL1, both, the level of MCL1 protein expression, and its occupational status represent key factors mediating sensitivity to S63845. In contrast to MCL1-BIM / BAK1 complexes that prime lymphoma cells for S63845-mediated apoptosis, MCL1-NOXA complexes are associated with S63845 resistance. In conclusion, MCL1 represents a critical survival molecule for most BLs and a subset of BCL2-negative DLBCLs. The level of BCL2 and MCL1 expression and occupational status of MCL1 belong to the key modulators of sensitivity/resistance to S63845. Co-treatment with venetoclax can overcome BCL2-mediated resistance to S63845, and enhance efficacy of MCL1 inhibitors in BCL2-positive aggressive B-NHL.

PMID:34728569 | DOI:10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-21-0511

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