JAK/STAT pathway inhibition overcomes IL7-induced glucocorticoid resistance in a subset of human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemias

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While outcomes for children with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) have improved dramatically, survival rates for patients with relapsed/refractory disease remain dismal. Prior studies indicate that glucocorticoid (GC) resistance is more common than resistance to other chemotherapies at relapse. In addition, failure to clear peripheral blasts during a prednisone prophase correlates with an elevated risk of relapse in newly diagnosed patients. Here we show that intrinsic GC resistance is present at diagnosis in early thymic precursor (ETP) T-ALLs as well as in a subset of non-ETP T-ALLs. GC-resistant non-ETP T-ALLs are characterized by strong induction of JAK/STAT signaling in response to interleukin-7 (IL7) stimulation. Removing IL7 or inhibiting JAK/STAT signaling sensitizes these T-ALLs, and a subset of ETP T-ALLs, to GCs. The combination of the GC dexamethasone and the JAK1/2 inhibitor ruxolitinib altered the balance between pro- and anti-apoptotic factors in samples with IL7-dependent GC resistance, but not in samples with IL7-independent GC resistance. Together, these data suggest that the addition of ruxolitinib or other inhibitors of IL7 receptor/JAK/STAT signaling may enhance the efficacy of GCs in a biologically defined subset of T-ALL.

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