Overcoming BCR::ABL1 dependent and independent survival mechanisms in chronic myeloid leukaemia using a multi-kinase targeting approach

Busch, Caroline and Mulholland, Theresa and Zagnoni, Michele and Dalby, Matthew and Berry, Catherine and Wheadon, Helen (2023) Overcoming BCR::ABL1 dependent and independent survival mechanisms in chronic myeloid leukaemia using a multi-kinase targeting approach. Cell Communication and Signalling, 21 (1). 342. ISSN 1478-811X (https://doi.org/10.1186/s12964-023-01363-2)

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Background Despite improved patient outcome using tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) patients require life-long treatment due to leukaemic stem cell (LSC) persistence. LSCs reside in the bone marrow (BM) niche, which they modify to their advantage. The BM provides oncogene-independent signals to aid LSC cell survival and quiescence. The bone-morphogenetic pathway (BMP) is one pathway identified to be highly deregulated in CML, with high levels of BMP ligands detected in the BM, accompanied by CML stem and progenitor cells overexpressing BMP type 1 receptors- activin-like kinases (ALKs), especially in TKI resistant patients. Saracatinib (SC), a SRC/ABL1 dual inhibitor, inhibits the growth of CML cells resistant to the TKI imatinib (IM). Recent studies indicate that SC is also a potent ALK inhibitor and BMP antagonist. Here we investigate the efficacy of SC in overcoming CML BCR::ABL1 dependent and independent signals mediated by the BM niche both in 2D and 3D culture. Methods CML cells (K562 cell line and CML CD34+ primary cells) were treated with single or combination treatments of: IM, SC and the BMP receptors inhibitor dorsomorphin (DOR), with or without BMP4 stimulation in 2D (suspension) and 3D co-culture on HS5 stroma cell line and mesenchymal stem cells in AggreWell and microfluidic devices. Flow cytometry was performed to investigate apoptosis, cell cycle progression and proliferation, alongside colony assays following treatment. Proteins changes were validated by immunoblotting and transcriptional changes by Fluidigm multiplex qPCR. Results By targeting the BMP pathway, using specific inhibitors against ALKs in combination with SRC and ABL TKIs, we show an increase in apoptosis, altered cell cycle regulation, fewer cell divisions, and reduced numbers of CD34+ cells. Impairment of long-term proliferation and differentiation potential after combinatorial treatment also occurred. Conclusion BMP signalling pathway is important for CML cell survival. Targeting SRC, ABL and ALK kinases is more effective than ABL inhibition alone, the combination efficacy importantly being demonstrated in both 2D and 3D cell cultures highlighting the need for combinatorial therapies in contrast to standard of care single agents. Our study provides justification to target multiple kinases in CML to combat LSC persistence.