McCaig, Alison M.
Investigation of dual Src/c-Abl tyrosine kinase inhibition as a novel therapeutic approach for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is the most common leukaemia in the western world, and remains incurable with current chemotherapy. Although CLL was long-regarded as an autonomous accumulation of functionally incompetent lymphocytes that escape apoptosis, significant rates of clonal proliferation and death have now been elegantly demonstrated in CLL patients in vivo. This, coupled with the high rates of spontaneous apoptosis observed on ex-vivo culture, confirms that CLL is a dynamic disorder, in which the tumour microenvironment is central to leukemic cell survival. Recent advances in CLL cell biology implicate signalling through the B cell antigen receptor (BCR) in the pathogenesis and progression of the disease. The absence of significant somatic hypermutation of the immunoglobulin heavy chain variable region (IgVH), which largely correlates with the expression of ZAP-70, in CLL cells is a significant adverse prognostic marker. CLL cases expressing an unmutated IgVH gene generally retain the ability to signal through the BCR. Components of the BCR signalling pathway are therefore attractive novel therapeutic targets, with potential selectivity for adverse prognostic groups. The non-receptor tyrosine kinases Lyn (a Src kinase) and c-Abl are both required for effective BCR signalling. Both are over-expressed, and constitutively active in CLL, and inhibition of either induces a degree of apoptosis. Dasatinib is a Src/c-Abl tyrosine kinase inhibitor in clinical use in chronic myeloid leukaemia. The main objective of this project was to conduct translational studies to determine the anti-leukaemic effects of dasatinib on CLL cells in vitro.
While the Src kinase inhibitor PP2, and the c-Abl inhibitor imatinib induced apoptosis of CLL cells at micromolar concentrations, dasatinib induced apoptosis of CLL cells at clinically achievable nanomolar concentrations, with an EC50 in the region of 10-30 nM, and plateau in effect above 100 nM. CLL cell treatment with 100 nM dasatinib for 48 hr led to a mean reduction in viability of 33.7%, but with significant inter-sample variability. No correlation was observed between dasatinib sensitivity and the established prognostic factors clinical stage, ZAP-70 status, or cytogenetic subgroup. Notably, CLL cells known to contain the 17p deletion, resulting in p53 dysfunction, responded similarly to other samples. Apoptosis induced by dasatinib involved loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and was caspase-dependent. Although dasatinib treatment alone rarely induced apoptosis of over 50% of CLL cells, synergy was observed between dasatinib and the current first-line chemotherapeutic agents fludarabine and chlorambucil. Moreover, dasatinib exhibited synergy with a novel Bcl-2 inhibitor, and the HSP90 inhibitor 17-DMAG.
Recently, antigen-independent ‘tonic’ BCR signalling has been linked to the pathogenesis of B cell lymphomas. Tonic signalling is proposed to be mediated by basal activity of Lyn and Syk kinases recruited to the BCR. As Syk is also over-expressed in CLL, we hypothesised that dasatinib sensitivity may correlate with inhibition of components of tonic BCR signal transduction. Indeed, CLL cells contained constitutively phosphorylated SykY348. Furthermore, a significant inverse correlation was observed between basal SykY348 phosphorylation and dasatinib sensitivity in individual samples, suggesting its’ utility as a biomarker of response. Dasatinib consistently inhibited an increase in SykY348 phosphorylation on BCR crosslinking. In addition, dasatinib inhibited calcium flux, and prevented Akt and MAPK phosphorylation on BCR stimulation. Moreover, dasatinib prevented up-regulation of Mcl-1 and blocked the increase in CLL cell survival observed on prolonged BCR stimulation, confirming inhibition of BCR signalling as a functionally relevant treatment strategy in CLL. Although dasatinib prevented CXCR4 down-regulation following BCR stimulation of CLL cells, dasatinib also specifically inhibited PI-3K/Akt activation upon CXCR4 stimulation by SDF-1, resulting in reduced actin polymerization and migration following SDF-1 stimulation. While the full translational implications of these observations remain to be determined, these data demonstrate that the anti-leukaemic effects of dasatinib extend beyond direct inhibition of BCR signal transduction.
It is well recognised that bone marrow (BM) stromal cells and blood-derived ‘nurse-like’ cells protect CLL cells from spontaneous apoptosis in vitro. More recently, proliferating CLL cells have been identified within specialised ‘proliferation centres’, admixed with appreciable numbers of T lymphocytes, predominantly activated CD4+ T cells expressing CD40 ligand (CD154), and interleukin 4 (IL-4). CD40/IL-4 stimulation of CLL cells in vitro leads to up-regulation of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins Bcl-xL and Mcl-1, and the pro-proliferative protein survivin, mimicking the expression profile of CLL cells isolated from patient lymph nodes (LNs). We were interested to determine whether the effects of dasatinib on CLL cells were modulated by these microenvironmental factors. To achieve this, CLL cells were co-cultured with either the murine BM stromal cell line NT-L, or NT-L cells stably transfected to express CD154, the latter with IL-4 added to the culture medium (154L/IL-4 system). The pro-apoptotic effect of dasatinib in CLL cells was abrogated by stromal cell co-culture, with or without CD154 and IL-4. Stromal cell-mediated resistance to dasatinib involved Akt and MAPK signalling, as evidenced by the ability of both the PI-3K inhibitor LY294002, and the MEK inhibitor PD98059 to restore dasatinib sensitivity of cells in NT-L co-culture. 154L/IL-4 co-culture activated multiple MAPK, associated with up-regulation of Bcl-xL, Mcl-1, and survivin, which was not inhibited by dasatinib. Dasatinib also failed to inhibit CLL cell proliferation in the 154L/IL-4 system. While dasatinib retained the ability to sensitise CLL cells to both fludarabine and chlorambucil in NT-L co-culture, the addition of CD154 and IL-4 rendered cells resistant to all drug combinations. Dasatinib did however retain the ability to sensitise CLL cells to the HSP90 inhibitor 17-DMAG in both NT-L and 154L/IL-4 co-culture.
In conclusion, these studies demonstrate that dasatinib offers much as a novel therapeutic strategy for CLL, overcoming pro-survival signalling through the BCR. However, our data suggest that dasatinib may be best utilised in combination treatment strategies with agents that can target antigen-independent signalling networks within the microenvironment. Collectively, this work provides valuable information that will inform future clinical trials of Src/c-Abl inhibitors in CLL.
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