The role of apoptotic pathways in the development and function of the megakaryocyte lineage has generated renewed interest in recent years. This has been driven by the advent of BH3 mimetic drugs that target BCL2 family proteins to induce apoptosis in tumour cells: agents such as ABT-263 (navitoclax, which targets BCL2, BCL-XL [BCL2L1] and BCL2L2) and ABT-199 (a BCL2-specific agent) are showing great promise in early stage clinical trials. However, the major dose-limiting toxicity of navitoclax has proven to be thrombocytopenia, an on-target effect of inhibiting BCL-XL. It transpires that the anucleate platelet contains a classical intrinsic apoptosis pathway, which at steady state regulates its life span in the circulation. BCL-XL is the critical pro-survival protein that restrains apoptosis and maintains platelet viability. These findings have paved the way to a deeper understanding of apoptotic pathways and processes in platelets, and their precursor cell, the megakaryocyte.
- BH3 mimetic