Indexed on: 31 May '19Published on: 30 Mar '19Published in: Haematologica
Internal tandem duplication in Fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3-ITD) is the most frequent mutation observed in acute myeloid leukemia and correlates with poor prognosis. FLT3 tyrosine kinase inhibitors are promising for targeted therapy. Here, we investigated mechanisms dampening the response to the FLT3 inhibitor quizartinib, which is specific to the hematopoietic niche. Using AML primary samples and cell lines, we demonstrate that convergent signals from hematopoietic microenvironment drive FLT3-ITD cell resistance to quizartinib through the expression and activation of the tyrosine kinase receptor AXL. Indeed, cytokines sustained phosphorylation of the transcription factor STAT5 in quizartinib-treated cells, which enhanced AXL expression by direct binding of a conserved motif in its genomic sequence. Likewise, hypoxia, another well-known hematopoietic niche hallmark, also enhanced AXL expression. Finally, in a xenograft mouse model, inhibition of AXL significantly increased the response of FLT3-ITD cells to quizartinib exclusively within a bone marrow environment. These data highlight a new bypass mechanism specific to the hematopoietic niche that hampers the response to quizartinib through combined up-regulation of AXL activity. Targeting this signaling offers the prospect of a new therapy to eradicate resistant FLT3-ITD leukemic cells hidden within their specific microenvironment, thereby preventing relapses from FLT3-ITD clones. Copyright © 2019, Ferrata Storti Foundation.