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The Akt/Mcl-1 Pathway Plays A Prominent Role In Mediating Antiapoptotic Signals Downstream Of The B-cell Receptor In Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia B Cells

Pablo G. Longo, Luca Laurenti, Stefania Gobessi, Simona Sica, Giuseppe Leone, Dimitar G. Efremov

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Sustained engagement of the B-cell receptor (BCR) increases apoptosis resistance in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) B cells, whereas transient stimulation usually has an opposite effect. The antiapoptotic BCR signal has been associated with prolonged activation of the PI3K/Akt and MEK/ERK pathways, which are key regulators of survival and proliferation in various cell types. To further define the relative contribution of the Akt and ERK kinases in regulating CLL B-cell survival, we introduced constitutively active mutants of Akt and MEK in primary CLL B cells and evaluated changes in the expression of relevant pro- and antiapoptotic proteins. Sustained activation of Akt resulted in increased leukemic cell viability and increased expression of the antiapoptotic proteins Mcl-1, Bcl-xL, and X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP), thus largely recapitulating the effects of sustained BCR stimulation. Constitutively active MEK2 also up-regulated XIAP, but did not show a significant impact on leukemic cell survival. Down-regulation of Mcl-1 by siRNA treatment induced rapid and potent apoptosis in CLL B cells and blocked the antiapoptotic effect of sustained BCR stimulation, whereas down-regulation of Bcl-xL and XIAP did not affect leukemic cell viability. These data demonstrate that Akt and Mcl-1 are major components of a survival pathway that can be activated in CLL B cells by antigen stimulation.