Microenvironmental agonists generate de novo phenotypic resistance to combined ibrutinib plus venetoclax in CLL and MCL

Kallesh D. Jayappa, Craig A. Portell, Vicki L. Gordon, Brian J. Capaldo, Stefan Bekiranov, Mark J. Axelrod, L. Kyle Brett, Julia D. Wulfkuhle, Rosa I. Gallagher, Emanuel F. Petricoin, Timothy P. Bender, Michael E. Williams, Michael J. Weber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


De novo resistance and rapid recurrence often characterize responses of B-cell malignancies to ibrutinib (IBR), indicating a need to develop drug combinations that block compensatory survival signaling and give deeper, more durable responses. To identify such combinations, we previously performed a combinatorial drug screen and identified the Bcl-2 inhibitor venetoclax (VEN) as a promising partner for combination with IBR in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). We have opened a multi-institutional clinical trial to test this combination. However, analysis of primary samples from patients with MCL as well as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) revealed unexpected heterogeneous de novo resistance even to the IBR1VEN combination. In the current study, we demonstrate that resistance to the combination can be generated by microenvironmental agonists: interleukin-10 (IL-10), CD40L and, most potently, cytosine guanine dinucleotide–oligodeoxynucleotides (CpG-ODNs), which is a surrogate for unmethylated DNA and a specific agonist for Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) signaling. Incubation with these agonists caused robust activation of NF-kB signaling, especially alternative NF-kB, which led to enhanced expression of the antiapoptotic proteins Mcl-1, Bcl-xL, and survivin, thus decreasing dependence on Bcl-2. Inhibitors of NF-kB signaling blocked overexpression of these antiapoptotic proteins and overcame resistance. Inhibitors of Mcl-1, Bcl-xL, or survivin also overcame this resistance, and showed synergistic benefit with the IBR1VEN combination. We conclude that microenvironmental factors, particularly the TLR9 agonist, can generate de novo resistance to the IBR1VEN combination in CLL and MCL cells. This signaling pathway presents targets for overcoming drug resistance induced by extrinsic microenvironmental factors in diverse B-cell malignancies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)933-946
Number of pages14
JournalBlood Advances
Issue number14
StatePublished - 13 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


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