Beyond single pathway inhibition: MEK inhibitors as a platform for the development of pharmacological combinations with synergistic anti-leukemic effects

M. Milella, C. M. Precupanu, C. Gregorj, M. R. Ricciardi, M. T. Petrucci, S. M. Kornblau, A. Tafuri, M. Andreeff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The MEK/MAPK signaling module is a key integration point along signal transduction cascades that regulate cell growth, survival, and differentiation, and is aberrantly activated in many human tumors, In tumor cells, constitutive MAPK activation affords increased proliferation and resistance to apoptotic stimuli, including classical cytotoxic drugs. In most instances, however, MAPK inhibition has cytostatic rather than cytotoxic effects which may explain the lack of objective responses observed in early clinical trials of MEK inhibitors. Nevertheless, amenability of the MAPK pathway to pharmacodynamic evaluation and negligible clinical toxicity make MEK inhibitors an ideal platform to build pharmacological combinations with synergistic antitumor activity. In AML, the MEK/MAPK pathway is constitutively activated in the majority of cases (75%), conferring a uniformly poor prognosis: in preclinical models of AML, MEK blockade profoundly inhibits cell growth and proliferation and downregulates the expression of several anti-apoptotic players, thereby lowering the apoptotic threshold. Apoptosis induction, however, requires concentrations of MEK inhibitors much higher than those required to inhibit proliferation. Nevertheless, MEK blockade efficiently and selectively sensitizes leukemic cells to sub-optimal doses of other apoptotic stimuli, including classical cytotoxics (nucleoside analogs, microtubule-targeted drugs, γ-irradiation), biologicals (retinoids, interferons, arsenic trioxide), and, most interestingly, other signal transduction/apoptosis modulators (UCN-01, STI571, Bcl-2 antagonists). In most instances, these MEK inhibition-based combinations result in a striking pro-apoptotic synergism in preclinical models. Here we briefly discuss evidence suggesting that MAPK pathway inhibition could play a prominent role in the development of integrated therapeutic strategies aimed at synergistic anti-leukemic effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2779-2795
Number of pages17
JournalCurrent Pharmaceutical Design
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Apoptosis
  • Combination therapy
  • ERK
  • Leukemia
  • MAPK
  • MEK inhibitors
  • Synergism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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