Heterogeneous modulation of Bcl-2 family members and drug efflux mediate MCL-1 inhibitor resistance in multiple myeloma

Journal Paper/Review - Oct 26, 2021


Bolomsky A, Caers J, Hübl W, Schreder M, Zojer N, Driessen C, Tang J, Besse L, Heckman C, Kubicek S, Hannich J, Miettinen J, Malyutina A, Besse A, Huber J, Fellinger S, Breid H, Parsons A, Klavins K, Ludwig H. Heterogeneous modulation of Bcl-2 family members and drug efflux mediate MCL-1 inhibitor resistance in multiple myeloma. Blood Adv 2021; 5:4125-4139.
Journal Paper/Review (English)
Blood Adv 2021; 5
Publication Date
Oct 26, 2021
Issn Print
Issn Electronic
Brief description/objective

Antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family members have recently (re)emerged as key drug targets in cancer, with a tissue- and tumor-specific activity profile of available BH3 mimetics. In multiple myeloma, MCL-1 has been described as a major gatekeeper of apoptosis. This discovery has led to the rapid establishment of clinical trials evaluating the impact of various MCL-1 inhibitors. However, our understanding about the clinical impact and optimal use of MCL-1 inhibitors is still limited. We therefore explored mechanisms of acquired MCL-1 inhibitor resistance and optimization strategies in myeloma. Our findings indicated heterogeneous paths to resistance involving baseline Bcl-2 family alterations of proapoptotic (BAK, BAX, and BIM) and antiapoptotic (Bcl-2 and MCL-1) proteins. These manifestations depend on the BH3 profile of parental cells that guide the enhanced formation of Bcl-2:BIM and/or the dynamic (ie, treatment-induced) formation of Bcl-xL:BIM and Bcl-xL:BAK complexes. Accordingly, an unbiased high-throughput drug-screening approach (n = 528) indicated alternative BH3 mimetics as top combination partners for MCL-1 inhibitors in sensitive and resistant cells (Bcl-xL>Bcl-2 inhibition), whereas established drug classes were mainly antagonistic (eg, antimitotic agents). We also revealed reduced activity of MCL-1 inhibitors in the presence of stromal support as a drug-class effect that was overcome by concurrent Bcl-xL or Bcl-2 inhibition. Finally, we demonstrated heterogeneous Bcl-2 family deregulation and MCL-1 inhibitor cross-resistance in carfilzomib-resistant cells, a phenomenon linked to the MDR1-driven drug efflux of MCL-1 inhibitors. The implications of our findings for clinical practice emphasize the need for patient-adapted treatment protocols, with the tracking of tumor- and/or clone-specific adaptations in response to MCL-1 inhibition.