Mechanisms of resistance to EZH2 inhibitors in diffuse large B-cell lymphomas

Malik Bisserier and Narendra Wajapeyee

Key Points

  • Resistance to EZH2 inhibitors occurs due to the activation of survival pathways and acquired EZH2 mutations that prevent drug binding.

  • Resistance mechanisms for different EZH2 inhibitors varies. Thus, cells resistant to 1 EZH2 inhibitor are sensitive to other inhibitors.


Resistance to targeted therapies has become increasingly prevalent. We noted that resistance to different targeted therapies occurs by largely common mechanisms. In this study, we used this information for identifying the mechanisms of resistance to enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) inhibitors in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) harboring EZH2 mutations. We discovered that EZH2 inhibitor-resistant DLBCL cells showed activation of the insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF-1R), MEK, and phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) pathways. Constitutive activation of IGF-1R, MEK, or PI3K pathways was sufficient to confer resistance to EZH2 inhibitors in DLBCL. The activation of the PI3K/AKT and MAPK pathways decreased TNFSF10 and BAD expression through a FOXO3-dependent mechanism, which was required for the antitumor effects of EZH2i GSK126. We also identified multiple acquired mutations in EZH2 inhibitor-resistant DLBCL cell lines. These mutations independently conferred resistance to EZH2 inhibitors. Mechanistically, cellular thermal shift assays revealed that the acquired EZH2 mutations that confer resistance to EZH2 inhibitors prevent EZH2 inhibitor binding to the EZH2 mutants. Notably, EZH2 inhibitor GSK126- and EPZ-6438–resistant DLBCL cells remained sensitive to the EZH2 inhibitor UNC1999 and embryonic ectoderm development protein inhibitor EED226, which provides an opportunity to treat DLBCLs that are resistant to these drugs. Collectively, our results underpin the importance for developing a unified approach for forestalling drug resistance by prospectively considering lessons learned from the use of different targeted therapeutic agents.

  • Submitted August 30, 2017.
  • Accepted March 17, 2018.
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