Glucocorticoid resistance is reverted by LCK inhibition in pediatric T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Valentina Serafin, Giorgia Capuzzo, Gloria Milani, Sonia Anna Minuzzo, Marica Pinazza, Roberta Bortolozzi, Silvia Bresolin, Elena Porcù, Chiara Frasson, Stefano Indraccolo, Giuseppe Basso and Benedetta Accordi

Key Points

  • Resistance to glucocorticoid treatment in pediatric T-ALL can be reversed by LCK inhibitors in vitro and in vivo.

  • IL-4 overexpression contributes to LCK-induced glucocorticoid resistance.


Pediatric T-acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) patients often display resistance to glucocorticoid (GC) treatment. These patients, classified as prednisone poor responders (PPR), have poorer outcome than do the other pediatric T-ALL patients receiving a high-risk adapted therapy. Because glucocorticoids are administered to ALL patients during all the different phases of therapy, GC resistance represents an important challenge to improving the outcome for these patients. Mechanisms underlying resistance are not yet fully unraveled; thus our research focused on the identification of deregulated signaling pathways to point out new targeted approaches. We first identified, by reverse-phase protein arrays, the lymphocyte cell-specific protein-tyrosine kinase (LCK) as aberrantly activated in PPR patients. We showed that LCK inhibitors, such as dasatinib, bosutinib, nintedanib, and WH-4-023, are able to induce cell death in GC-resistant T-ALL cells, and remarkably, cotreatment with dexamethasone is able to reverse GC resistance, even at therapeutic drug concentrations. This was confirmed by specific LCK gene silencing and ex vivo combined treatment of cells from PPR patient-derived xenografts. Moreover, we observed that LCK hyperactivation in PPR patients upregulates the calcineurin/nuclear factor of activated T cells signaling triggering to interleukin-4 (IL-4) overexpression. GC-sensitive cells cultured with IL-4 display an increased resistance to dexamethasone, whereas the inhibition of IL-4 signaling could increase GC-induced apoptosis in resistant cells. Treatment with dexamethasone and dasatinib also impaired engraftment of leukemia cells in vivo. Our results suggest a quickly actionable approach to supporting conventional therapies and overcoming GC resistance in pediatric T-ALL patients.

  • Submitted May 11, 2017.
  • Accepted October 30, 2017.
View Full Text