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Carcinogenesis. 2011 Oct;32(10):1550-8. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgr176. Epub 2011 Jul 29.

Arsenic disulfide synergizes with the phosphoinositide 3-kinase inhibitor PI-103 to eradicate acute myeloid leukemia stem cells by inducing differentiation.

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  • 1Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hubei, People's Republic of China.


Although dramatic clinical success has been achieved in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), the success of differentiating agents has not been reproduced in non-APL leukemia. A key barrier to the clinical success of arsenic is that it is not potent enough to achieve a clinical benefit at physiologically tolerable concentrations by targeting the leukemia cell differentiation pathway alone. We explored a novel combination approach to enhance the eradication of leukemia stem cells (LSCs) by arsenic in non-APL leukemia. In the present study, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase /AKT/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) phosphorylation was strengthened after As(2)S(2) exposure in leukemia cell lines and stem/progenitor cells, but not in cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMCs). propidium iodide-103, the dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor, effectively inhibited the transient activation of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway by As(2)S(2). The synergistic killing and differentiation induction effects on non-APL leukemia cells were examined both in vitro and in vivo. Eradication of non-APL LSCs was determined using the nonobese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficiency mouse model. We found that a combined As(2)S(2)/PI-103 treatment synergized strongly to kill non-APL leukemia cells and promote their differentiation in vitro. Furthermore, the combined As(2)S(2)/PI-103 treatment effectively reduced leukemia cell repopulation and eradicated non-APL LSCs partially via induction of differentiation while sparing normal hematopoietic stem cells. Taken together, these findings suggest that induction of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway could provide a protective response to offset the antitumor efficacy of As(2)S(2). Targeting the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway in combination with As(2)S(2) could be exploited as a novel strategy to enhance the differentiation and killing of non-APL LSCs.

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