bcl-x is a new member of the bcl-2 gene family and is highly expressed in neural tissues. The present study was designed to determine the expression of the bcl-x gene products in neuroblastoma (NB) and their role in the modulation of chemotherapy-induced apoptosis. Twenty-seven NB cell lines were screened by quantitative immunoprecipitation for Bcl-xL, Bcl-xS, and Bcl-2 expression. None of the cell lines expressed Bcl-xS. Twenty-four of 27 (88%) of the NB cell lines expressed Bcl-xL and 21 of 27 (78%) were positive for Bcl-2. The level of Bcl-xL and Bcl-2 expression was variable among the lines analyzed. Bcl-2 expression was restricted to cells of chromaffin lineage, whereas Bcl-xL was seen in both chromaffin and nonchromaffin lines. To determine whether Bcl-xL could mediate chemotherapy resistance, a NB cell line expressing negligible levels of Bcl-xL was transfected with a bcl-xL expression vector, and unique clones were generated expressing variable levels of Bcl-xL. Cells were treated either with cisplatinum (CP), 4-hydroperoxy-cyclophosphamide (4-HC), or etoposide (VP-16) to induce apoptosis, and cell viability and DNA degradation were determined. Following treatment with CP or 4-HC, Bcl-xL-expressing cells showed significantly increased viability as compared to vector-transfected controls (P < 0.005). Flow cytometric analysis of propidium iodide-stained nuclei following CP or 4-HC treatment revealed significantly increased DNA degradation in controls as compared to Bcl-xL-expressing lines (P < 0.004). DNA analysis by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis revealed high molecular weight (∼40 kb) DNA degradation in controls, whereas the DNA in cells expressing Bcl-xL was largely intact. In contrast to CP and 4-HC, results with VP-16 revealed a short-term delay in the onset of apoptosis in Bcl-xL-expressing cells with no long-term survival advantage. The results of these studies indicate Bcl-xL is expressed in NB cells and functions in a manner analogous to Bcl-2 by inhibiting chemotherapy-induced apoptosis.

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This work was supported by National Institute of Child Health Development Grant CHRC HD2880-3 (to V. P. C.), NIH RO1 CA64556-01 (to G. N.), and American Cancer Society EDT-30 (to M. J. C.). G. N. is supported by NIH Research Career Development Award CA 64421-01. M. G. D. is a University of Michigan Cancer Center Pardee Fellow.

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