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Blood. 2009 Feb 19;113(8):1710-22. doi: 10.1182/blood-2007-09-114314. Epub 2008 Nov 25.

Small molecule XIAP inhibitors cooperate with TRAIL to induce apoptosis in childhood acute leukemia cells and overcome Bcl-2-mediated resistance.

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  • 1University Children's Hospital, Ulm, Germany.


Defects in apoptosis contribute to poor outcome in pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), calling for novel strategies that counter apoptosis resistance. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that small molecule inhibitors of the antiapoptotic protein XIAP cooperate with TRAIL to induce apoptosis in childhood acute leukemia cells. XIAP inhibitors at subtoxic concentrations, but not a structurally related control compound, synergize with TRAIL to trigger apoptosis and to inhibit clonogenic survival of acute leukemia cells, whereas they do not affect viability of normal peripheral blood lymphocytes, suggesting some tumor selectivity. Analysis of signaling pathways reveals that XIAP inhibitors enhance TRAIL-induced activation of caspases, loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, and cytochrome c release in a caspase-dependent manner, indicating that they promote a caspase-dependent feedback mitochondrial amplification loop. Of note, XIAP inhibitors even overcome Bcl-2-mediated resistance to TRAIL by enhancing Bcl-2 cleavage and Bak conformational change. Importantly, XIAP inhibitors kill leukemic blasts from children with ALL ex vivo and cooperate with TRAIL to induce apoptosis. In vivo, they significantly reduce leukemic burden in a mouse model of pediatric ALL engrafted in non-obese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficient (NOD/SCID) mice. Thus, XIAP inhibitors present a promising novel approach for apoptosis-based therapy of childhood ALL.

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