MLL-rearranged acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) represents an unfavorable type of leukemia that often is highly resistant to glucocorticoids such as prednisone and dexamethasone. Because response to prednisone largely determines clinical outcome of pediatric patients with ALL, overcoming resistance to this drug may be an important step toward improving prognosis. Here, we show how gene expression profiling identifies high-level MCL-1 expression to be associated with prednisolone resistance in MLL-rearranged infant ALL, as well as in more favorable types of childhood ALL. To validate this observation, we determined MCL-1 expression with quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction in a cohort of MLL-rearranged infant ALL and pediatric noninfant ALL samples and confirmed that high-level MCL-1 expression is associated with prednisolone resistance in vitro. In addition, MCL-1 expression appeared to be significantly higher in MLL-rearranged infant patients who showed a poor response to prednisone in vivo compared with prednisone good responders. Finally, down-regulation of MCL-1 in prednisolone-resistant MLL-rearranged leukemia cells by RNA interference, to some extent, led to prednisolone sensitization. Collectively, our findings suggest a potential role for MCL-1 in glucocorticoid resistance in MLL-rearranged infant ALL, but at the same time strongly imply that high-level MCL-1 expression is not the sole mechanism providing resistance to these drugs.

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Stam, R.W, den Boer, M.L, Schneider, P, de Boer, J.B, Hagelstein, J.A.P, Valsecchi, M.G, … Pieters, R. (2010). Association of high-level MCL-1 expression with in vitro and in vivo prednisone resistance in MLL-rearranged infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood, 115(5), 1018–1025. doi:10.1182/blood-2009-02-205963