Mitochondrial defects in primary leukemia cells: Biological consequences and therapeutic implications

Jennifer Sue Carew, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Mitochondria are actively engaged in the production of cellular energy sources, generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and regulation of apoptosis. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations/deletions and other mitochondrial abnormalities have been implicated in many diseases, especially cancer. Despite this, the roles that these defects play in cancer development, drug sensitivity, and disease progression still remain to be elucidated. The major objective of this investigation was to evaluate the mechanistic relationship between mitochondrial defects and alterations in free radical generation and chemosensitivity in primary chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells. This study revealed that the mtDNA mutation frequency and basal superoxide generation are both significantly higher in primary cells from CLL patients with a history of chemotherapy as compared to cells from their untreated counterparts. CLL cells from refractory patients tended to have high mutation frequencies. The data suggest that chemotherapy with DNA-damaging agents may cause mtDNA mutations, which are associated with increased ROS generation and reduced drug sensitivity. Subsequent analyses demonstrated that CLL cells contain significantly more mitochondria than normal lymphocytes. This abnormal accumulation of mitochondria was linked to increased expression of nuclear respiratory factor-1 and mitochondrial transcription factor A, two key free radical-regulated mitochondrial biogenesis factors. Further analysis showed that mitochondrial content may have therapeutic implications since patient cells with high mitochondrial mass display significantly reduced in vitro sensitivity to fludarabine, a frontline agent in CLL therapy. The reduced in vitro and in vivo sensitivity to fludarabine observed in CLL cells with mitochondrial defects highlights the need for novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of refractory disease. Brefeldin A, an inhibitor of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to Golgi protein transport that is being developed as an anticancer agent, effectively induces apoptosis in fludarabine-refractory CLL cells through a secretory stress-mediated mechanism involving intracellular sequestration of pro-survival secretory factors. Taken together, these data indicate that mitochondrial defects in CLL cells are associated with alterations in free radical generation, mitochondrial biogenesis activity, and chemosensitivity. Abrogation of survival signaling by blocking ER to Golgi protein transport may be a promising therapeutic strategy for the treatment of CLL patients that respond poorly to conventional chemotherapy.

Subject Area

Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Carew, Jennifer Sue, "Mitochondrial defects in primary leukemia cells: Biological consequences and therapeutic implications" (2005). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3168434.