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The prognosis for B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients with Mixed-Lineage Leukemia (MLL) gene rearrangements (MLLr BCP-ALL) is still extremely poor. Inhibition of anti-apoptotic protein BCL-2 with venetoclax emerged as a promising strategy for this subtype of BCP-ALL, however, lack of sufficient responses in preclinical models and the possibility of developing resistance exclude using venetoclax as monotherapy. Herein, we aimed to uncover potential mechanisms responsible for limited venetoclax activity in MLLr BCP-ALL and to identify drugs that could be used in combination therapy. Using RNA-seq, we observed that long-term exposure to venetoclax in vivo in a patient-derived xenograft model leads to downregulation of several tumor protein 53 (TP53)-related genes. Interestingly, auranofin, a thioredoxin reductase inhibitor, sensitized MLLr BCP-ALL to venetoclax in various in vitro and in vivo models, independently of the p53 pathway functionality. Synergistic activity of these drugs resulted from auranofin-mediated upregulation of NOXA pro-apoptotic protein and potent induction of apoptotic cell death. More specifically, we observed that auranofin orchestrates upregulation of the NOXA-encoding gene Phorbol-12-Myristate-13-Acetate-Induced Protein 1 (PMAIP1) associated with chromatin remodeling and increased transcriptional accessibility. Altogether, these results present an efficacious drug combination that could be considered for the treatment of MLLr BCP-ALL patients, including those with TP53 mutations.

Original publication

DOI

10.1038/s41388-022-02196-y

Type

Journal article

Journal

Oncogene

Publication Date

28/01/2022

Addresses

Department of Immunology, Medical University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.