The combination of Nutlin-3 and Tanshinone IIA promotes synergistic cytotoxicity in acute leukemic cells expressing wild-type p53 by co-regulating MDM2-P53 and the AKT/mTOR pathway.
Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2019 01 ;106:8-20. Epub 2018 Oct 30. PMID: 30389549
P53 dysfunction has been associated with various malignant tumors, including acute leukemia. The overexpression of mouse double minute 2 (MDM2) causes the inactivation of p53 in acute leukemia. MDM2 inhibitors that activate p53 and induce apoptosis are currently being developed for potential treatment of acute leukemia. However, MDM2 inhibitors alone have limited efficacy in acute leukemia therapeutics. Combining other drugs to enhance the efficacy of MDM2 inhibitors is the thus considered as a potential treatment scheme. Here, we report that the combination of Nutlin-3 and Tanshinone IIA synergistically induces cytotoxicity, cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, and autophagic cell death, thereby imparting anti-leukemia effect in an acute leukemia cell line with wild-type p53 by effectively activating p53, inhibiting the AKT/mTOR pathway, and activating the RAF/MEK pathway. Using primary samples from acute leukemia patients, we show that the combination of Nutlin-3 plus Tanshinone IIA synergistically induces cytotoxicity by activating p53 and inhibiting the AKT/mTOR pathway. This specific combination of Nutlin-3 and Tanshinone IIA is also effective in preventing the recurrence of refractory leukemia, such as Ph+ ALL with the ABL kinase T315I mutation and AML with the FLT3-ITD mutation. Taken together, the results of this study demonstrate that the Nutlin-3 plus Tanshinone IIA combination exerts synergistic anti-leukemia effects by regulating the p53 and AKT/mTOR pathways, although further investigation is warranted. Small-molecule MDM2 antagonists plus Tanshinone IIA may thus be a promising strategy for the treatment of acute leukemia.