Novel ex vivo analysis of nonclassical, pleiotropic drug resistance and collateral sensitivity induced by therapy provides a rationale for treatment strategies in chronic lymphocytic leukemia

AG Bosanquet and PB Bell


Extensive research into mechanisms of cytotoxic drug resistance and subsequent clinical trials of drug resistance modifiers have produced few encouraging results. In this report, we analyze 4,400+ ex vivo Differential Staining Cytotoxicity (DiSC) assay drug response results from patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) to investigate the development of drug resistance during treatment. Patients were untreated (n = 216) or previously treated with various cytotoxic agents (n = 188). Data was processed to identify ex vivo resistance (or sensitivity) induced by treating patients with prednisolone, chlorambucil, cyclophosphamide, anthracycline, or fludarabine. Induced resistance was apparently not associated with any one known mechanism. Treatment with chlorambucil induced a 10-fold sensitivity to steroids; cyclophosphamide induced greater resistance to anthracyclines than alkylating agents; anthracyclines induced greatest resistance to chlorambucil, cisplatin, carboplatin, and cladribine. Patients previously treated with at least two regimens were only 2.16-fold more resistant to CLL drugs than untreated patients, but had significantly reduced survival (median survival, 7.9 months compared with 61.1 months for untreated patients). These results suggest that chlorambucil and/or an antimetabolite should be administered before cyclophosphamide or anthracyclines to delay the onset of extensive pleiotropic drug resistance. Because individual differences in drug sensitivity are considerable, specific guidance could be obtained from ex vivo assay results. Furthermore, as a model for investigating drug resistance mechanisms, fresh CLL lymphocytes represent a useful alternative to drug-resistant cell lines.