Targeting BET bromodomain proteins using small molecules is an emerging anticancer strategy with clinical evaluation of at least six inhibitors now underway. Although MYC downregulation was initially proposed as a key mechanistic property of BET inhibitors, recent evidence suggests that additional antitumor activities are important. Using the Eμ-Myc model of B-cell lymphoma, we demonstrate that BET inhibition with JQ1 is a potent inducer of p53-independent apoptosis that occurs in the absence of effects on Myc gene expression. JQ1 skews the expression of proapoptotic (Bim) and antiapoptotic (BCL-2/BCL-xL) BCL-2 family members to directly engage the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway. Consistent with this, Bim knockout or Bcl-2 overexpression inhibited apoptosis induction by JQ1. We identified lymphomas that were either intrinsically resistant to JQ1-mediated death or acquired resistance following in vivo exposure. Strikingly, in both instances BCL-2 was strongly upregulated and was concomitant with activation of RAS pathways. Eμ-Myc lymphomas engineered to express activated Nras upregulated BCL-2 and acquired a JQ1 resistance phenotype. These studies provide important information on mechanisms of apoptosis induction and resistance to BET-inhibition, while providing further rationale for the translation of BET inhibitors in aggressive B-cell lymphomas. Mol Cancer Ther; 15(9); 1–12. ©2016 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Online (http://mct.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received November 15, 2015.
- Revision received June 6, 2016.
- Accepted June 22, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.