Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) starts with the acquisition of a BCR-ABL fusion gene in a single hematopoietic stem cell, but the time to progression is unpredictable. Although the tyrosine kinase inhibitor imatinib mesylate is highly effective in the treatment of CML, its continuous administration is associated with development of resistance, particularly in advanced phase or blast crisis. We investigate here whether a feature of disease progression (i.e., elevated expression of Bcr-Abl in CD34+ progenitor cells from CML patients in blast crisis) has any bearing on the kinetics of resistance to imatinib. By studying cell lines that exogenously express Bcr-Abl over the range found from chronic phase to blast crisis of CML, we show that cells expressing high amounts of Bcr-Abl, as in blast crisis, are much less sensitive to imatinib and, more significantly, take a substantially shorter time for yielding a mutant subclone resistant to the inhibitor than cells with low expression levels, as in chronic phase. Our data suggest that the differential levels of the Bcr-Abl oncoprotein expressed by CD34+ CML cells may reflect the extent and duration of their response to imatinib; the relatively high levels of oncoprotein in advanced-phase disease may underlie the observed rapid development of resistance.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research