PloS one

Oncogenic kit triggers Shp2/Erk1/2 pathway to down-regulate the pro-apoptotic protein Bim and to promote apoptosis resistance in leukemic cells.

PMID 23145067


Oncogenic mutations leading to persistent kinase activities are implicated in various human malignancies. Thereby, signaling pathway-targeted therapies are powerful customized treatment to eradicate cancer cells. In murine and human leukemia cells harboring mutations in Kit, we previously showed that distinct and independent pathways controlled resistance to apoptosis or cell cycle. A treatment with PI3Kinase inhibitors to reduce cell proliferation combined with inhibitors of Erk1/2 activity to promote apoptosis had synergistic effects allowing eradication of leukemia cell growth. We reported here that Bim(EL), a pro-apoptotic member of the Bcl2 family proteins, is the target of Erk1/2 signaling and that its down-regulation is responsible for the apoptosis resistance of murine and human leukemic cells. Downstream of Kit mutant, the tyrosine phosphatase Shp2 maintains Bim(EL) expression at a low level, through Erk/2 activation and proteosomal Bim(EL) degradation. This process is controlled by Shp2 independently of other signaling pathways activated downstream of oncogenic Kit, demonstrating that Shp2 is a key regulator of Bim expression in the context of an oncogenic signaling. The increase in Bim(EL) expression is associated to an increased apoptosis. Moreover, the depletion of Bim overcomes apoptosis associated with Erk1/2 inactivation in UO126-treated leukemic cells, thereby establishing the contribution of Bim to drug-induced apoptosis. These data provide a molecular rationale for using BH3 mimetics in combination with PI3K inhibitors to treat leukemia, especially in the case of an oncogenic signaling refractory to Tyrosine Kinase inhibitors.