Inhibition of MCL-1 in breast cancer cells promotes cell death in vitro and in vivo

Clint Mitchell, Adly Yacoub, Hossein Hamed, Aditi Pandya Martin, M. Danielle Bareford, Patrick Eulitt, Chen Yang, Kenneth P. Nephew, Paul Dent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

57 Scopus citations


The present studies have examined approaches to suppress MCL-1 function in breast cancer cells, as a means to promote tumor cell death. Treatment of breast cancer cells with CDK inhibitors (flavopiridol; roscovitine) enhanced the lethality of the ERBB1 inhibitor lapatinib in a synergistic fashion. CDK inhibitors interacted with lapatinib to reduce MCL-1 expression and overexpression of MCL-1 or knock down of BAX and BAK suppressed drug combination lethality. Lapatinib-mediated inhibition of ERK1/2 and to a lesser extent AKT facilitated CDK inhibitor-induced suppression of MCL-1 levels. Treatment of cells with the BH3 domain/MCL-1 inhibitor obatoclax enhanced the lethality of lapatinib in a synergistic fashion. Knock out of MCL-1 and BCL-XL enhanced lapatinib toxicity to a similar extent as obatoclax and suppressed the ability of obatoclax to promote lapatinib lethality. Pre-treatment of cells with lapatinib or with obatoclax enhanced basal levels of BAX and BAK activity and further enhanced drug combination toxicity. In vivo tumor growth data in xenograft and syngeneic model systems confirmed our in vitro findings. Treatment of cells with CDK inhibitors enhanced the lethality of obatoclax in a synergistic fashion. Overexpression of MCL-1 or knock down of BAX and BAK suppressed the toxic interaction between CDK inhibitors and obatoclax. Obatoclax and lapatinib treatment or obatoclax and CDK inhibitor treatment or lapatinib and CDK inhibitor treatment radiosensitized breast cancer cells. Lapatinib and obatoclax interacted to suppress mammary tumor growth in vivo. Collectively our data demonstrate that manipulation of MCL-1 protein expression by CDK inhibition or inhibition of MCL-1 sequestering function by Obatoclax renders breast cancer cells more susceptible to BAX/BAK-dependent mitochondrial dysfunction and tumor cell death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)903-917
Number of pages15
JournalCancer Biology and Therapy
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 1 2010



  • BAK
  • BCL-2 inhibitor
  • CDK inhibitor
  • Flavopiridol
  • Lapatinib
  • MCL-1
  • Obatoclax
  • Roscovitine
  • RTK inhibitor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology

Cite this

Mitchell, C., Yacoub, A., Hamed, H., Martin, A. P., Bareford, M. D., Eulitt, P., Yang, C., Nephew, K. P., & Dent, P. (2010). Inhibition of MCL-1 in breast cancer cells promotes cell death in vitro and in vivo. Cancer Biology and Therapy, 10(9), 903-917.