MEK inhibition enhances ABT-737-induced leukemia cell apoptosis via prevention of ERK-activated MCL-1 induction and modulation of MCL-1/BIM complex

M Konopleva, M Milella, P Ruvolo, J C Watts, M R Ricciardi, B Korchin, T McQueen, W Bornmann, T Tsao, P Bergamo, D H Mak, W Chen, J McCubrey, A Tafuri, M Andreeff
Leukemia 2012, 26 (4): 778-87
Recently, strategies for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) therapy have been developed that target anti-apoptotic BCL2 family members using BH3-mimetic drugs such as ABT-737. Though effective against BCL2 and BCL-X(L), ABT-737 poorly inhibits MCL-1. Here we report that, unexpectedly, ABT-737 induces activation of the extracellular receptor activated kinase and induction of MCL-1 in AML cells. MEK inhibitors such as PD0325901 and CI-1040 have been used successfully to suppress MCL-1. We report that PD0325901 blocked ABT-737-induced MCL-1 expression, and when combined with ABT-737 resulted in potent synergistic killing of AML-derived cell lines, primary AML blast and CD34+38-123+ progenitor/stem cells. Finally, we tested the combination of ABT-737 and CI-1040 in a murine xenograft model using MOLM-13 human leukemia cells.Whereas control mice and CI-1040-treated mice exhibited progressive leukemia growth, ABT-737, and to a significantly greater extent, ABT-737+CI-1040 exerted major anti-leukemia activity. Collectively, results demonstrated unexpected anti-apoptotic interaction between the BCL2 family-targeted BH3-mimetic ABT-737 and mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling in AML cells: the BH3 mimetic is not only restrained in its activity by MCL-1, but also induces its expression. However, concomitant inhibition by BH3 mimetics and MEK inhibitors could abrogate this effect and may be developed into a novel and effective therapeutic strategy for patients with AML.

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