The tumor microenvironment is characterized, not only by marked gradients in drug concentration, but also by gradients in the rate of cell proliferation and by regions of hypoxia and acidity, all of which can influence tumor cell sensitivity to drug treatment. Hypoxia is also an important environmental factor in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), because bone marrow is intrinsically hypoxic in nature. Systems-wide analyses of tumors have recently identified receptor tyrosine kinase coactivation as an important mechanism by which cancer cells achieve chemoresistance. Recent work suggests that Src activation might play a prominent role in the response to hypoxia to promote cell survival, progression, and metastasis of a variety of human cancer. Other studies also established a functional link between Bcr-Abl and the Src family tyrosine kinases. It is well known that mutations can also cause some tyrosine kinases to become constitutively active, a nonstop functional state that may contribute to initiation or progression of cancer as in CML. Leukemic cells carrying chromosomal alteration, are sensitive to imatinib that induces complete remission in most patients. This inhibitor is a highly selective Bcr-Abl tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). There is a considerable interest in understanding how activated signaling pathways enhance tumor cell survival under hypoxia, because this might lead to the introduction of more effective treatments to target these resistant subpopulations. For all these reasons it is important to identify new TKIs which are also active in hypoxia, the real tumor microenvironment, as possible alternative therapy.
Bcr-Abl, chronic myeloid leukemia, hypoxia, Src, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, VEGF
Unit of Neuroimmunophysiology, Department of Physiology, University of Siena, Via Aldo Moro, 53100 Siena, Italy.