Glucocorticoids (GCs) are a central component of therapy for patients with T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), and although resistance to GCs is a strong negative prognostic indicator in T-ALL, the mechanisms of GC resistance remain poorly understood. Using diagnostic samples from patients enrolled in the frontline Children’s Oncology Group (COG) T-ALL clinical trial AALL1231, we demonstrated that one-third of primary T-ALLs were resistant to GCs when cells were cultured in the presence of IL-7, a cytokine that is critical for normal T cell function and that plays a well-established role in leukemogenesis. We demonstrated that in these T-ALLs and in distinct populations of normal developing thymocytes, GCs paradoxically induced their own resistance by promoting upregulation of IL-7 receptor (IL-7R) expression. In the presence of IL-7, this augmented downstream signal transduction, resulting in increased STAT5 transcriptional output and upregulation of the prosurvival protein BCL-2. Taken together, we showed that IL-7 mediates an intrinsic and physiologic mechanism of GC resistance in normal thymocyte development that is retained during leukemogenesis in a subset of T-ALLs and is reversible with targeted inhibition of the IL-7R/JAK/STAT5/BCL-2 axis.
Lauren K. Meyer, Benjamin J. Huang, Cristina Delgado-Martin, Ritu P. Roy, Aaron Hechmer, Anica M. Wandler, Tiffaney L. Vincent, Paolo Fortina, Adam B. Olshen, Brent L. Wood, Terzah M. Horton, Kevin M. Shannon, David T. Teachey, Michelle L. Hermiston