BCR-ABL- and Ras-independent activation of Raf as a novel mechanism of Imatinib resistance in CML.
ABSTRACT Although the BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase inhibitor Imatinib has undoubtedly revolutionized the therapy of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), acquired drug resistance remains a common problem in CML therapy. Resistance often arises from second-line mutations in BCR-ABL or overexpression of the BCR-ABL protein but in ~20% of CML cases resistance mechanisms do not involve altered BCR-ABL function. Imatinib-resistant CML cell lines have been widely used for comparative proteome/genome-wide expression screens in order to decipher resistance mechanisms but a clearcut molecular mechanism or molecular player in BCR-ABL-independent resistance to Imatinib has not yet evolved from those studies. Here, we report the identification of a novel mechanism for Imatinib resistance in CML cells with unaltered BCR-ABL function. Pharmacological analysis evidenced a constitutive, Imatinib-insensitive activation of the Erk-MAPK pathway in resistant cells. A systematic analysis of pathway constituents illustrated that Ras-GTP accumulation remained fully sensitive to Imatinib but c-Raf activity from serum-fed cultures was largely resistant to the drug's action. Sequencing excluded mutations in either B-Raf or c-Raf as the origin of resistance, indicating that a functional alteration in the regulation of c-Raf activity was responsible for this effect. Collectively, these findings highlight a novel mechanism of acquired Imatinib resistance based on the BCR-ABL and Ras-independent constitutive activation of the Erk-MAPK pathway through activated c-Raf, which could prove helpful for a better functional classification of the causes of Imatinib resistance in CML.