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Keywords:

  • acute myeloid leukaemia (AML);
  • p-glycoprotein;
  • rhodamine 123;
  • FLT3 internal tandem duplication;
  • apoptosis

Summary. The ability of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) blasts to survive in culture has been associated with poor patient response to chemotherapy. Other biological factors predicting an adverse outcome include p-glycoprotein (pgp) expression, which is associated with a reduced remission rate, and the presence of fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 gene (FLT3) internal tandem duplications (ITDs), predictive of a high rate of leukaemic relapse. Our previous work has indicated a drug efflux-independent role for pgp in apoptosis resistance. We measured spontaneous in vitro apoptosis in 58 primary AML samples to establish its relationship with functional and phenotypic pgp and with FLT3 ITDs. Cells were incubated for 48 h in a suspension culture, and the remaining viable cells were counted by flow cytometry. Median survival was 38% of baseline values. Resistance to spontaneous apoptosis was strongly associated with pgp (MRK-16 antibody) expression (P = 0·001) and with pgp functional activity (P < 0·001). FLT3 ITDs, found in 20 cases, were inversely associated with functional pgp activity: thus, the median pgp modulation ratio was 2·0 in FLT3 wild-type cases and 1·38 in ITD cases (P = 0·018). Also, the presence of FLT3 ITDs was not associated with in vitro apoptosis resistance. In conclusion, we have found that the presence of FLT3 ITDs is not related to AML blast survival in vitro, and is inversely associated with pgp activity, whereas pgp expression and activity are associated with resistance to spontaneous apoptosis. These results may help to explain the differing adverse effects of pgp (on remission induction) and FLT3 ITDs (on relapse) in AML.