Venetoclax-Resistant T-ALL Cells Display Distinct Cancer Stem Cell Signatures and Enrichment of Cytokine Signaling

Kinjal Shah, Lina Al Ashiri, Ahmad Nasimian, Mehreen Ahmed, Julhash U. Kazi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Therapy resistance remains one of the major challenges for cancer treatment that largely limits treatment benefits and patient survival. The underlying mechanisms that lead to therapy resistance are highly complicated because of the specificity to the cancer subtype and therapy. The expression of the anti-apoptotic protein BCL2 has been shown to be deregulated in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), where different T-ALL cells display a differential response to the BCL2-specific inhibitor venetoclax. In this study, we observed that the expression of anti-apoptotic BCL2 family genes, such as BCL2, BCL2L1, and MCL1, is highly varied in T-ALL patients, and inhibitors targeting proteins coded by these genes display differential responses in T-ALL cell lines. Three T-ALL cell lines (ALL-SIL, MOLT-16, and LOUCY) were highly sensitive to BCL2 inhibition within a panel of cell lines tested. These cell lines displayed differential BCL2 and BCL2L1 expression. Prolonged exposure to venetoclax led to the development of resistance to it in all three sensitive cell lines. To understand how cells developed venetoclax resistance, we monitored the expression of BCL2, BCL2L1, and MCL1 over the treatment period and compared gene expression between resistant cells and parental sensitive cells. We observed a different trend of regulation in terms of BCL2 family gene expression and global gene expression profile including genes reported to be expressed in cancer stem cells. Gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) showed enrichment of cytokine signaling in all three cell lines which was supported by the phospho-kinase array where STAT5 phosphorylation was found to be elevated in resistant cells. Collectively, our data suggest that venetoclax resistance can be mediated through the enrichment of distinct gene signatures and cytokine signaling pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5004
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Mar

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cancer and Oncology

Free keywords

  • apoptosis resistance
  • BCL2 inhibition
  • leukemia
  • navitoclax
  • targeted therapy


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