Cyclin E/Cdk2-dependent phosphorylation of Mcl-1 determines its stability and cellular sensitivity to BH3 mimetics

Gaurav S. Choudhary, Trinh T. Tat, Saurav Misra, Brian T. Hill, Mitchell R. Smith, Alexandru Almasan, Suparna Mazumder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Cyclin E/Cdk2 kinase activity is frequently deregulated in human cancers, resulting in impaired apoptosis. Here, we show that cyclin E/Cdk2 phosphorylates and stabilizes the pro-survival Bcl-2 family protein Mcl-1, a key cell death resistance determinant to the small molecule Bcl-2 family inhibitors ABT-199 and ABT-737, mimetics of the Bcl-2 homology domain 3 (BH3). Cyclin E levels were elevated and there was increased association of cyclin E/Cdk2 with Mcl-1 in ABT-737-resistant compared to parental cells. Cyclin E depletion in various human tumor cell-lines and cyclin E-/- mouse embryo fibroblasts showed decreased levels of Mcl-1 protein, with no change in Mcl-1 mRNA levels. In the absence of cyclin E, Mcl-1 ubiquitination was enhanced, leading to decreased protein stability. Studies with Mcl-1 phosphorylation mutants show that cyclin E/Cdk2-dependent phosphorylation of Mcl-1 residues on its PEST domain resulted in increased Mcl-1 stability (Thr92, and Thr163) and Bim binding (Ser64). Cyclin E knock-down restored ABT-737 sensitivity to acquired and inherently resistant Mcl-1-dependent tumor cells. CDK inhibition by dinaciclib resulted in Bim release from Mcl-1 in ABT-737-resistant cells. Dinaciclib in combination with ABT-737 and ABT-199 resulted in robust synergistic cell death in leukemic cells and primary chronic lymphocytic leukemia patient samples. Collectively, our findings identify a novel mechanism of cyclin E-mediated Mcl-1 regulation that provides a rationale for clinical use of Bcl-2 family and Cdk inhibitors for Mcl-1-dependent tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16912-16925
Number of pages14
Issue number19
StatePublished - 2015


  • ABT-199
  • CLL
  • Cdk2
  • Cyclin E
  • Dinaciclib ABT-737
  • Mcl-1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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