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Alterations of B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL-2) family proteins contribute to the survival of B-cell malignancies. Recently, venetoclax, a BCL-2 inhibitor, was approved for B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia therapy and is being investigated in clinical trials for a variety of hematologic cell malignancies. Furthermore, combination therapy with other molecularly targeted drugs was reported to be more effective than monotherapy. However, combining venetoclax with immunotherapy based on T-cells has not been tested. Because both venetoclax and granzyme B activate the mitochondrial apoptosis pathway by targeting different BCL-2 family molecules, it is possible that combinations of venetoclax with immunotherapy will be effective treatments. We examined the effect of combining venetoclax with immunotherapy using an in vitro model system involving cytomegalovirus (CMV) pp65 antigen-specific cytotoxic T-cells (CMV-CTLs) as the effector cells and CMVpp65 antigen-expressing B-cell lines as the target cells. Cytotoxicity of CMV-CTLs to the target B-cell lines was enhanced by venetoclax with combination index values of 0.47-0.83. This suggests that venetoclax synergizes with T-cell-based immunotherapy to affect B-cell malignancies. Interestingly, venetoclax synergized not only with antigen-specific cytotoxicity but also with nonspecific cytotoxicity. Importantly, CMV-CTLs could be expanded in the presence of venetoclax at the maximum concentration (5 μM) that induced apoptosis in resting CMV-CTLs. B-cell lymphoma-extra large (BCL-xL) expression in CMV-CTLs increased transiently after activation by CMVpp65-transfected B-cell lines, indicating that the expression of BCL-xL was important for the effectiveness of combination treatment with venetoclax. These findings suggest that T-cell-based immunotherapy combined with venetoclax is effective against B-cell malignancies. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Satsuki Murakami, Susumu Suzuki, Ichiro Hanamura, Kazuhiro Yoshikawa, Ryuzo Ueda, Masao Seto, Akiyoshi Takami. Combining T-cell-based immunotherapy with venetoclax elicits synergistic cytotoxicity to B-cell lines in vitro. Hematological oncology. 2020 Dec;38(5):705-714

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PMID: 32822067

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