FLT3 is a frequently mutated gene that is highly associated with a poor prognosis in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Despite initially responding to FLT3 inhibitors, most patients eventually relapse with drug resistance. The mechanism by which resistance arises and the initial response to drug treatment that promotes cell survival is unknown. Recent studies show that a transiently maintained subpopulation of drug-sensitive cells, so-called drug-tolerant "persisters" (DTPs), can survive cytotoxic drug exposure despite lacking resistance-conferring mutations. Using RNA sequencing and drug screening, we find that treatment of FLT3 internal tandem duplication AML cells with quizartinib, a selective FLT3 inhibitor, upregulates inflammatory genes in DTPs and thereby confers susceptibility to anti-inflammatory glucocorticoids (GCs). Mechanistically, the combination of FLT3 inhibitors and GCs enhances cell death of FLT3 mutant, but not wild-type, cells through GC-receptor–dependent upregulation of the proapoptotic protein BIM and proteasomal degradation of the antiapoptotic protein MCL-1. Moreover, the enhanced antileukemic activity by quizartinib and dexamethasone combination has been validated using primary AML patient samples and xenograft mouse models. Collectively, our study indicates that the combination of FLT3 inhibitors and GCs has the potential to eliminate DTPs and therefore prevent minimal residual disease, mutational drug resistance, and relapse in FLT3-mutant AML.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cell Biology