Neuroblastoma tumors frequently overexpress the anti-apoptotic protein B-cell lymphoma/leukemia 2 (BCL-2). We previously showed that treating BCL-2-dependent neuroblastoma cells with the BCL-2 inhibitor venetoclax results in apoptosis, but unfortunately partial therapy resistance is observed. The current study describes the identification of drugs capable of resensitizing venetoclax-resistant neuroblastoma cells to venetoclax. To examine these effects, venetoclax resistance was induced in BCL-2-dependent neuroblastoma cell lines KCNR and SJNB12 by continuous exposure to high venetoclax concentrations. Nonresistant and venetoclax-resistant neuroblastoma cell lines were exposed to a 209-compound library in the absence and presence of venetoclax to identify compounds that were more effective in the venetoclax-resistant cell lines under venetoclax pressure. Top hits were further validated in combination with venetoclax using BCL-2-dependent neuroblastoma model systems. Overall, high-throughput drug screening identified the MDM2 inhibitor idasanutlin as a promising resensitizing agent for venetoclax-resistant neuroblastoma cell lines. Idasanutlin treatment induced BAX-mediated apoptosis in venetoclax-resistant neuroblastoma cells in the presence of venetoclax, whereas it caused p21-mediated growth arrest in control cells. In vivo combination treatment showed tumor regression and superior efficacy over single-agent therapies in a BCL-2-dependent neuroblastoma cell line xenograft and a patient-derived xenograft. However, xenografts less dependent on BCL-2 were not sensitive to venetoclax-idasanutlin combination therapy. This study demonstrates that idasanutlin can overcome resistance to the BCL-2 inhibitor venetoclax in preclinical neuroblastoma model systems, which supports clinical development of a treatment strategy combining the two therapies.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The research in this article was supported by grants from the Villa Joep Foundation (grant BCL-2 in neuroblastoma), the Kinderen Kankervrij Foundation (KiKa; grant 189), ERC-START (grant PREDICT-716079), NWO-Vidi (grant 91716482) and Aflac Pilot grant (to K.C. Goldsmith). We would like to thank Dr. C. Patrick Reynolds and Cogcell.org for providing us with the COG-N-424x PDX model and the CHOA Pediatric Biorepository for the CHOA-NBX-4 PDX model.
© 2021 American Association for Cancer Research.