T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is an aggressive cancer arising from lymphoblasts of T-cell origin. While T-ALL accounts for only 15% of childhood and 25% of adult ALL, 30% of patients relapse with a poor outcome. Targeted therapy of resistant and high-risk pediatric T-ALLs is therefore urgently needed, together with precision medicine tools allowing the testing of efficacy in patient samples. Furthermore, leukemic cell heterogeneity requires drug response assessment at the single-cell level.
Here, we used single-cell mass cytometry to study signal transduction pathways such as the JAK-STAT, PI3K-AKT-mTOR and MEK-ERK pathways in 16 diagnostic and 5 relapsed TALL primary samples and investigated the in vitro response of cells to Interleukin-7 (IL-7) and the inhibitor BEZ-235. T-ALL cells showed upregulated activity of the PI3K-AKTmTOR and MEK-ERK pathways and increased proliferation and translation markers. We found that perturbation induced by the ex vivo administration of either IL-7 or BEZ-235 reveals a high degree of exclusivity with respect to the phospho-protein responsiveness to these agents.
Notably, these response signatures were maintained from diagnosis to relapse in individual patients.
In conclusion, we demonstrated the power of mass cytometry single-cell profiling of signal transduction pathways in T-ALL. Taking advantage of this advanced approach, we were able to identify distinct clusters with different responsiveness to IL-7 and BEZ-235 that can persist at relapse.
Collectively our observations can contribute to a better understanding of the complex signaling network governing T-ALL behavior and its correlation with influence on the response to therapy.
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