In the context of cancer, the intrinsic apoptotic pathway is exploited to favor tumor cell survival through overexpression of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members (Bcl-A1, Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, Bcl-w and Mcl-1). We investigated targeting of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins in a panel of human luminal breast cancer cell lines. Use of ABT-263, the Bcl-2/Bcl-xL/Bcl-w inhibitor, induced transient tumor cell killing and decreased tumor cell growth in only 1 of 4 cell lines in three dimensional (3D) cultures. Mcl-1 expression and activity were rapidly upregulated upon ABT-263 treatment, highlighting the compensatory nature of Mcl-1. In luminal breast cancers, Mcl-1 was the most frequently amplified anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family member according to The Cancer Genome Atlas, while nearly 80% of the luminal breast tumor epithelium was positive for Mcl-1 in a tissue microarray. Thus, we hypothesized that Mcl-1 may be a dominant tumor cell survival factor in luminal breast cancers.

Use of the mTOR inhibitor RAD001 (everolimus) to target Mcl-1 indirectly decreased tumor cell growth and increased tumor cell killing in 3 of 4 cell lines, as well as WAP-Myc luminal mammary tumors, demonstrating the effectiveness of Mcl-1 as a therapeutic target in breast cancers. While Mcl-1 inhibition alone did not affect growth of T47D cells, robust growth inhibition and tumor cell killing were seen in all cell lines upon inhibition of Mcl-1 using RAD001 or a EIF4 complex inhibitor (4E1RCat) in combination with ABT-263, suggesting that the induction of Mcl-1 upon ABT-263 treatment may be supported by increased cap-dependent translation. These results demonstrate that the sensitivity of luminal breast cancers to ABT-263 is enhanced by Mcl-1 inhibition, warranting further investigation into inhibition of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins, in particular Mcl-1, as a clinical strategy to improve survival of patients with luminal breast cancers.

Citation Format: Michelle M. Williams, Linus Lee, Meghan M. Morrison, Courtney McKernan, Violeta Sanchez, Donna Hicks, Thomas Stricker, Rebecca S. Cook. Mcl-1-mediated resistance to ABT-263 is combated by mTOR inhibition in luminal breast cancers. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the AACR Special Conference on Advances in Breast Cancer Research; Oct 17-20, 2015; Bellevue, WA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Mol Cancer Res 2016;14(2_Suppl):Abstract nr B07.