Despite high initial response rates, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treated with the BCL-2–selective inhibitor venetoclax (VEN) alone or in combinations commonly acquires resistance. We performed gene/protein expression, metabolomic and methylation analyses of isogenic AML cell lines sensitive or resistant to VEN, and identified the activation of RAS/MAPK pathway, leading to increased stability and higher levels of MCL-1 protein, as a major acquired mechanism of VEN resistance. MCL-1 sustained survival and maintained mitochondrial respiration in VEN-RE cells, which had impaired electron transport chain (ETC) complex II activity, and MCL-1 silencing or pharmacologic inhibition restored VEN sensitivity. In support of the importance of RAS/MAPK activation, we found by single-cell DNA sequencing rapid clonal selection of RAS-mutated clones in AML patients treated with VEN-containing regimens. In summary, these findings establish RAS/MAPK/MCL-1 and mitochondrial fitness as key survival mechanisms of VEN-RE AML and provide the rationale for combinatorial strategies effectively targeting these pathways.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research