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Mol Cancer Ther. 2011 Sep;10(9):1624-34. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-10-1119. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Mechanisms of action of a dual Cdc7/Cdk9 kinase inhibitor against quiescent and proliferating CLL cells.

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  • 1National Centre of Biomedical Engineering and Science and Centre for Chromosome Biology, National University of Ireland Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland.


In chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) the proliferation rate and resistance to drug-induced apoptosis are recognized as important factors in the outcome of treatment. In this study, we assess the activity and the mechanism of action of the prototype cell division cycle kinase 7 (Cdc7) inhibitor, PHA-767491, which inhibits the initiation of DNA replication but also has cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (Cdk9) inhibitory activity. We have studied the effects of this dual Cdc7/Cdk9 inhibitor in both quiescent CLL cells and CLL cells that have been induced to proliferate using a cellular coculture system that mimics the lymph node microenvironment. We find that this compound, originally developed as a DNA replication inhibitor, is particularly active in promoting mitochondrial dependent apoptosis in quiescent CLL cells purified from peripheral blood of patients regardless of recognized risk factors. In this setting, apoptosis is preceded by a decrease in the levels of Mcl-1 protein and transcript possibly due to inhibition of Cdk9. Following stimulation by CD154 and interleukin-4, CLL cells become highly chemoresistant, reenter into the cell cycle, reexpress Cdc7 kinase, a key molecular switch for the initiation of DNA replication, replicate their DNA, and undergo cell division. In this context, treatment with PHA-767491 abolished DNA synthesis by inhibiting Cdc7 but is less effective in triggering cell death, although Mcl-1 protein is no longer detectable. Thus, dual Cdc7/Cdk9 inhibition has the potential to target both the quiescent and actively proliferating CLL populations through two distinct mechanisms and may be a new therapeutic strategy in CLL.

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