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Poor clinical outcome of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) has been attributed to failure of current chemotherapeutic regimens to target leukemic stem cells. We recently identified p21-activated kinase (PAK1) as a downstream effector molecule of H2.0-like homeobox (HLX), a gene functionally relevant for AML pathogenesis. In this study, we find that inhibition of PAK1 activity by small molecule inhibitors or by RNA interference leads to profound leukemia inhibitory effects both in vitro and in vivo. Inhibition of PAK1 induces differentiation and apoptosis of AML cells through downregulation of the MYC oncogene and a core network of MYC target genes. Importantly, we find that inhibition of PAK1 inhibits primary human leukemic cells including immature leukemic stem cell-enriched populations. Moreover, we find that PAK1 upregulation occurs during disease progression and is relevant for patient survival in MDS. Our studies highlight PAK1 as a novel target in AML and MDS and support the use of PAK1 inhibitors as a therapeutic strategy in these diseases.

Original publication




Conference paper

Publication Date





1118 - 1127


Animals, Apoptosis, Cell Line, Tumor, Genes, myc, Humans, Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute, Mice, Molecular Targeted Therapy, Myelodysplastic Syndromes, Protein Kinase Inhibitors, RNA Interference, RNAi Therapeutics, p21-Activated Kinases