Combination therapies targeting apoptosis in paediatric AML: understanding the molecular mechanisms of AML treatments using phosphoproteomics

Ahlam A. Ali, Lauren V. Cairns, Kathryn M. Clarke, Jaine K. Blayney, Katrina M. Lappin*, Ken I. Mills*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Paediatric acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) continues to present treatment challenges, as no “standard approach” exists to treat those young patients reliably and safely. Combination therapies could become a viable treatment option for treating young patients with AML, allowing multiple pathways to be targeted. Our in silico analysis of AML patients highlighted “cell death and survival” as an aberrant, potentially targetable pathway in paediatric AML patients. Therefore, we aimed to identify novel combination therapies to target apoptosis. Our apoptotic drug screening resulted in the identification of one potential “novel” drug pairing, comprising the Bcl-2 inhibitor ABT-737 combined with the CDK inhibitor Purvalanol-A, as well as one triple combination of ABT-737 + AKT inhibitor + SU9516, which showed significant synergism in a series of paediatric AML cell lines. Using a phosphoproteomic approach to understand the apoptotic mechanism involved, proteins related to apoptotic cell death and cell survival were represented, in agreement with further results showing differentially expressed apoptotic proteins and their phosphorylated forms among combination treatments compared to single-agent treated cells such upregulation of BAX and its phosphorylated form (Thr167), dephosphorylation of BAD (Ser 112), and downregulation of MCL-1 and its phosphorylated form (Ser159/Thr 163). Total levels of Bcl-2 were decreased but correlated with increased levels of phosphorylated Bcl-2, which was consistent with our phosphoproteomic analysis predictions. Bcl-2 phosphorylation was regulated by extracellular-signal-regulated kinase (ERK) but not PP2A phosphatase. Although the mechanism linking to Bcl-2 phosphorylation remains to be determined, our findings provide first-hand insights on potential novel combination treatments for AML.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5717
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2023


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