Addicted to autophagy: Ph+ B-ALL may acquire iImatinib-resistance and enhanced malignancy through a highly-active autophagy pathway
The majority of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and some of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) cases are associated with possessing the BCR-Abl fusion protein from an oncogenic translocation, resulting in a constantly active form of Abl and rapid proliferation. CML and ALL cells that possess the BCR-Abl fusion protein are known as Philadelphia chromosome positive (Ph+). Currently, Imatinib (selective Abl inhibitor) is used as therapy against CML and ALL. However, some patients may have malignancies which show resistance to Imatinib. Previous work displays that the transformation of progenitor B cells with the v-Abl oncogene of Abelson murine leukemia virus results in cell cycle progression, rapid proliferation, and potentially malignant transformation while preventing any further differentiation. Progenitor B cells transformed with the temperature-sensitive form of the v-Abl oncogene have served as a model to study cellular response to Imatinib treatment. After some manipulation, very few cells were forced to progress to malignancy, forming tumor in vivo. These cells were no long sensitive to v-Abl inactivation, resembling the Imatinib resistant ALL. Autophagy is the process by which proteins and organelles are broken-down and recycled within the eukaryotic cell and has been hypothesized to play a part in cancer cell survival and drug-resistance. LC3 processing is a widely accepted marker of autophagy induction and progression. It has also been shown that Imatinib treatment of Ph+ leukemia can induce autophagy. In this study, we examined the autophagy induction in response to v-Abl inactivation in a Ph+-B-ALL cell model that shows resistance to Imatinib. In particular, we wonder whether the tumor cell line resistant to v-Abl inactivation may acquire a high level of autophagy to become resistant to apoptosis induced by v-Abl inactivation, and thus become addicted to autophagy. Indeed, this tumor cell line displays a high basal levels of LC3 I and II expression, regardless of v-Abl activity. We further demonstrated that inhibition of the autophagy pathway enhances the tumor line's sensitivity to Imatinib, resulting in cell cycle arrest and massive apoptosis. The combination of autophagy and Abl inhibitions may serve as an effective therapy for BCR-Abl positive CML.