Deregulation of the Mitochondrial Apoptotic Machinery and Development of Molecular Targeted Drugs in Acute Myeloid Leukemia
G. Del Poeta,
M. I. Del Principe,
P. de Fabritiis,
Apoptosis plays a key role in the control of rapidly renewing tissues, such as the hematopoietic system and leukemia cells invariably have abnormalities in one or more apoptotic pathways, determining a survival advantage of these cells and the development of drug resistance. These defects are also frequently associated with a low rate of response to standard chemotherapy and with a poor survival in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The major form of apoptosis proceeds through the mitochondrial pathway, with the mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization, leading to the release of proteins normally found in the space between the inner and outer mitochondrial membranes (cytochrome C, AIF and others). Higher levels of anti-apoptosis proteins bcl-2, bcl-xL, Mcl-1 block permeabilization of the membrane and are reported in AML patients presenting a poor outcome. On the contrary, activated pro-apoptotic bax or bad proteins allow this permeabilization and are correlated to a good prognosis in AML. Defects in the mitochondrial pathway induce multidrugresistance and confer important prognostic information in AML. High ratios of bcl-2 to bax protein confer a poor prognosis with decreased rates of complete remission and overall survival. The prognostic information from the ratio of the proteins is greater than bcl-2 levels alone. Recently, we confirmed the impressive impact of the bax/bcl-2 ratio, determined by flow cytometry, on AML prognosis (complete remission and overall survival) in 255 AML patients. Bcl-2 down regulation might lower the apoptotic threshold of leukemic cells and, through this mechanism, favor response to chemotherapy. Phase II studies of oblimersen (antisense Bcl-2), cytarabine and daunorubicin or oblimersen plus gentuzumab, a cytotoxic antibody directed against CD33+ cells in relapsed AMLs, showed promising results. Defects in apoptosome proteins, such as APAF-1, are frequent in AML and treatment with 5-aza-2-deoxycytidine, a specific inhibitor of DNA methylation, restored APAF-1 expression in leukemic cells. In conclusion, targeted therapies that are designed to induce apoptosis in leukemic cells, are the most promising anti-leukemia strategies. The elucidation of the apoptotic machinery and of its defects in AML lays the basis for developing new drugs able to trigger apoptosis and overcome therapy resistance.
Keywords: Acute myeloid leukemia, Mitochondrial Apoptosis, Bcl-2, Apoptosome, Prognosis, Targeted therapy, Anti-sense oligonucleotides, Proteasome inhibitors
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