Cancer research

Navitoclax (ABT-263) accelerates apoptosis during drug-induced mitotic arrest by antagonizing Bcl-xL.

PMID 21546570


Combining microtubule-targeting antimitotic drugs with targeted apoptosis potentiators is a promising new chemotherapeutic strategy to treat cancer. In this study, we investigate the cellular mechanism by which navitoclax (previously called ABT-263), a Bcl-2 family inhibitor, potentiates apoptosis triggered by paclitaxel and an inhibitor of kinesin-5 (K5I, also called a KSP inhibitor), across a panel of epithelial cancer lines. By using time-lapse microscopy, we showed that navitoclax has little effect on cell death during interphase, but strongly accelerates apoptosis during mitotic arrest, and greatly increases the fraction of apoptosis-resistant cells that die. By systematically knocking down individual Bcl-2 proteins, we determined that Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL are the primary negative regulators of apoptosis during prolonged mitotic arrest. Mcl-1 levels decrease during mitotic arrest because of an imbalance between synthesis and turnover, and turnover depends in part on the MULE/HUWE1 E3 ligase. The combination of Mcl-1 loss with inhibition of Bcl-xL by navitoclax causes rapid apoptosis in all lines tested. Variation in expression levels of Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL largely determines variation in response to antimitotics alone, and antimitotics combined with navitoclax, across our panel. We concluded that Bcl-xL is a critical target of Bcl-2 family inhibitors for enhancing the lethality of antimitotic drugs in epithelial cancers, and combination treatment with navitoclax and a spindle specific antimitotic, such as a K5I, might be more effective than paclitaxel alone.