Erythropoietin Overcomes Imatinib-Induced Apoptosis and Induces Erythroid Differentiation in TF-1/bcr-abl Cells



Targeting BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase by treatment with the selective inhibitor imatinib (formerly STI571, Gleevec) has proved to be highly efficient for inhibiting leukemic growth in vitro. In addition, in clinical trials, imatinib has produced high response rates in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in chronic phase and blastic crisis. However, episodes of severe cytopenia were also frequently observed, leading to discontinuation of therapy in some cases. Therefore, it is important to examine whether administration of cytokines overcomes the adverse effects of imatinib in in vitro systems. In this study, we examine the effects of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and erythropoietin (EPO) on TF-1/bcr-abl (which was generated by transduction of a bcr-abl fusion gene into the TF-1 cell line) as a model system for CML with blastic crisis. Imatinib induced apoptosis in TF-1/bcr-abl cells but not in the parental TF-1 cells. However, GM-CSF, a survival factor of the parental TF-1 cells, protected TF-1/bcr-abl cells from imatinib-induced apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner. Concomitantly, constitutive phosphorylation of Stat5 and FKHRL1 was significantly inhibited by imatinib, and the inhibition was canceled by the addition of GM-CSF, accompanied by upregulation of Bcl-xL and downregulation of p27/Kip1. In addition, although untreated TF-1/bcr-abl cells had lost responsiveness to both GM-CSF and EPO and showed autonomous growth, GM-CSF enhanced phosphorylation of Stat5 and FKHRL1 in these cells. Importantly, imatinib-treated TF-1/bcr-abl cells differentiated into hemoglobin-positive cells in the presence of EPO, as in the case for the parental TF-1 cells. Taken together, imatinib-treated CML cells may differentiate into mature cells in the presence of differentiation-inducing cytokines such as EPO.