The oncogenic protein Bcl-2 functions as a potent inhibitor of programmed cell death. This survival activity has been shown in some settings to be influenced by the Bcl-2 phosphorylation state. It has been demonstrated that treatment with microtubule-targeted agents results in phosphorylation of both Raf-1 kinase and Bcl-2. The Bcl-2-related family member Bcl-xL also exhibits a death suppressive activity, but its potential for phosphorylation following exposure to drugs that interact with microtubules has not been evaluated. Several tumor cell lines with low or undetectable levels of Bcl-2 protein expression were found to express Bcl-xL. A more slowly migrating Bcl-xL band was observed on immunoblots after cells were treated with microtubule-targeted agents. The appearance of this band was responsive to dose and was absent when the cell lysates were treated with λ protein phosphatase. Using a Bcl-xL-specific monoclonal antibody, the phosphorylated form of Bcl-xL was immunoprecipitated from cells treated with paclitaxel and metabolically labeled with 32P-labeled inorganic orthophosphate. Herein, we report that Bcl-xL is phosphorylated in malignant cells after incubation with agents that target tubulin, including paclitaxel, vincristine, vinblastine, colchicine, and nocodazole. Moreover, paclitaxel-resistant ovarian carcinoma cell lines that have mutations in tubulin failed to exhibit phosphorylation of Bcl-xL after paclitaxel exposure, but they did demonstrate Bcl-xL phosphorylation in the presence of other tubulin-targeting agents. As observed for Bcl-2, phosphorylation of Bcl-xL was accompanied by phosphorylation of Raf-1. Interestingly, phosphorylation of these three proteins failed to occur or was much less pronounced when cells grown at high density were challenged with drug. Also, reduced Raf-1 expression, observed after treatment of cells with geldanamycin prior to and during incubation with the microtubule-active drugs, correlated with diminished Bcl-xL, phosphorylation. Taken together, these results suggest that Bcl-xL, like Bcl-2, is phosphorylated by agents that disrupt microtubule architecture. By analogy with Bcl-2, this phosphorylation may play a critical role in modulating Bcl-xL function and may be an important determinant of microtubule-directed chemotherapeutic efficacy in human tumors.

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