The Bcl-2 repertoire of mesothelioma spheroids underlies acquired apoptotic multicellular resistance

Lung Biology Center, San Francisco General Hospital, University of California-San Francisco, 1001 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA.
Cell Death & Disease (Impact Factor: 5.18). 06/2011; 2(6):e174. DOI: 10.1038/cddis.2011.58
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Three-dimensional (3D) cultures are a valuable platform to study acquired multicellular apoptotic resistance of cancer. We used spheroids of cell lines and actual tumor to study resistance to the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib in mesothelioma, a highly chemoresistant tumor. Spheroids from mesothelioma cell lines acquired resistance to bortezomib by failing to upregulate Noxa, a pro-apoptotic sensitizer BH3-only protein that acts by displacing Bim, a pro-apoptotic Bax/Bak-activator protein. Surprisingly, despite their resistance, spheroids also upregulated Bim and thereby acquired sensitivity to ABT-737, an inhibitor of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 molecules. Analysis using BH3 profiling confirmed that spheroids acquired a dependence on anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins and were 'primed for death'. We then studied spheroids grown from actual mesothelioma. ABT-737 was active in spheroids grown from those tumors (5/7, ∼70%) with elevated levels of Bim. Using immunocytochemistry of tissue microarrays of 48 mesotheliomas, we found that most (33, 69%) expressed elevated Bim. In conclusion, mesothelioma cells in 3D alter the expression of Bcl-2 molecules, thereby acquiring both apoptotic resistance and sensitivity to Bcl-2 blockade. Mesothelioma tumors ex vivo also show sensitivity to Bcl-2 blockade that may depend on Bim, which is frequently elevated in mesothelioma. Therefore, mesothelioma, a highly resistant tumor, may have an intrinsic sensitivity to Bcl-2 blockade that can be exploited therapeutically.

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