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Leukemia. 2012 Dec;26(12):2508-16. doi: 10.1038/leu.2012.147. Epub 2012 Jun 1.

Actinomycin D induces p53-independent cell death and prolongs survival in high-risk chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

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Laboratory for Immunological and Molecular Cancer Research, 3rd Medical Department with Hematology, Medical Oncology, Hemostaseology, Rheumatology and Infectiology of the Paracelsus Medical University Hospital, Salzburg, Austria.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most prevalent lymphoid malignancy in the elderly of the Western world. Although treatment options have improved over the past two decades, 10-15% of patients still have a poor prognosis and are often resistant to therapy. Aberrations in the p53 pathway, such as a deleted (del17p13) or mutated p53 gene, are highly enriched in this class of patients. In an extensive screen for p53-independent apoptosis inducers, actinomycin D was identified from 1496 substances and shown to induce apoptosis in primary CLL cells derived from high-risk patients including those with aberrant p53, revealing a novel p53-independent mechanism of action. Both pro-survival genes BCL2 and MCL1 are targeted by actinomycin D, in contrast to fludarabine the backbone of current treatment schedules. In the well-established TCL1 transgenic mouse model for high-risk CLL, actinomycin D treatment was more effective in reducing tumor load than fludarabine, with no evidence of resistance after three treatment cycles and an overall survival increase of over 300%. Tumor load reduction was coupled to BCL2 downregulation. Our results identify the clinically approved compound actinomycin D as a potentially valuable treatment option for CLL high-risk patients.

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