The antineoplastic activity of pre-transplant regimens in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is a critical factor for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients. There is an urgent need to identify novel approaches without jeopardizing patient safety. We hypothesized that combination of drugs with different mechanisms of action would provide better cytotoxicity. We, therefore, determined the synergistic cytotoxicity of various combinations of the alkylating agents busulfan (Bu) and 4-hydroperoxycyclophosphamide (4HC), the nucleoside analog fludarabine (Flu) and the BCL2 inhibitor ABT199/venetoclax in AML cells. [Bu+4HC] and [Bu+Flu] inhibited cell proliferation and activated apoptosis; addition of ABT199 to either combinations significantly increased these effects with combination indexes < 1. Apoptosis is suggested by cleavages of PARP1 and CASPASE 3, DNA fragmentation, increased reactive oxygen species, decreased mitochondrial membrane potential, and increased pro-apoptotic proteins in the cytoplasm. A similar enhancement of apoptosis was observed in patient-derived cell samples. ABT199/venetocalx upregulated anti-apoptotic MCL1 as a compensatory mechanism but addition of [Bu+4HC] or [Bu+Flu] negated this effect by CASPASE 3-mediated cleavage of MEK1/2 and its substrate MCL1. CASPASE 3 caused cleavage of pro-survival β-CATENIN, which likely contributed to the activation of stress signaling pathways involving SAPK/JNK and AMPK. The observed synergistic cytotoxicity was associated with an inhibition of pro-survival pathways involving STAT1, STAT5 and PI3K. These findings will be useful in designing clinical trials using these drug combinations as pre-transplant conditioning regimens for AML patients.
- Acute myeloid leukemia
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