Pharmacologic Targeting of Mcl-1 Induces Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Apoptosis in B-Cell Lymphoma Cells in a TP53- and BAX-Dependent Manner

Purpose:

Bcl-2 has been effectively targeted in lymphoid malignancies. However, resistance is inevitable, and novel approaches to target mitochondrial apoptosis are necessary. AZD5991, a selective BH3-mimetic in clinical trials, inhibits Mcl-1 with high potency.

Experimental Design:

We explored the preclinical activity of AZD5991 in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and ibrutinib-resistant mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) cell lines, MCL patient samples, and mice bearing DLBCL and MCL xenografts using flow cytometry, immunoblotting, and Seahorse respirometry assay. Cas9 gene editing and ex vivo functional drug screen assays helped identify mechanisms of resistance to Mcl-1 inhibition.

Results:

Mcl-1 was expressed in DLBCL and MCL cell lines and primary tumors. Treatment with AZD5991 restricted growth of DLBCL cells independent of cell of origin and overcame ibrutinib resistance in MCL cells. Mcl-1 inhibition led to mitochondrial dysfunction as manifested by mitochondrial membrane depolarization, decreased mitochondrial mass, and induction of mitophagy. This was accompanied by impairment of oxidative phosphorylation. TP53 and BAX were essential for sensitivity to Mcl-1, and oxidative phosphorylation was implicated in resistance to Mcl-1 inhibition. Induction of prosurvival proteins (e.g., Bcl-xL) in stromal conditions that mimic the tumor microenvironment rendered protection of primary MCL cells from Mcl-1 inhibition, while BH3-mimetics targeting Bcl-2/xL sensitized lymphoid cells to AZD5991. Treatment with AZD5991 reduced tumor growth in murine lymphoma models and prolonged survival of MCL PDX mice.

Conclusions:

Selective targeting Mcl-1 is a promising therapeutic approach in lymphoid malignancies. TP53 apoptotic network and metabolic reprogramming underlie susceptibility to Mcl-1 inhibition.