Physiologic and pathogenic IL7-receptor (IL7R) induced signaling provokes glucocorticoid resistance in a subset of pediatric T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) patients. Activation of downstream STAT5 has been suggested to cause steroid resistance through upregulation of anti-apoptotic BCL2, one of its downstream target genes. Here, we demonstrate that isolated STAT5 signaling in various T-ALL cell models is insufficient to raise cellular steroid resistance despite upregulation of BCL2 and BCL-XL. Upregulation of anti-apoptotic BCL2 and BCLXL in STAT5-activated T-ALL cells require steroid-induced activation of NR3C1. For the BCLXL locus, this is facilitated by a concerted action of NR3C1 and activated STAT5 molecules at two STAT5-regulatory sites, whereas for the BCL2 locus this is facilitated by binding of NR3C1 at a STAT5 binding motif. In contrast, STAT5 occupancy at glucocorticoid response elements (GREs) does not affect the expression of NR3C1 target genes. Strong upregulation of BIM, a NR3C1 pro-apoptotic target gene, upon prednisolone treatment can counterbalance NR3C1/STAT5-induced BCL2 and BCL-XL expression downstream of IL7-induced or pathogenic IL7R signaling. This explains why isolated STAT5 activation does not directly impair the steroid response. Our study suggests that STAT5 activation only contributes to steroid resistance in combination with cellular defects or alternative signaling routes that disable the pro-apoptotic and steroid-induced BIM response.
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