Selective killing of human T-ALL cells: an integrated approach targeting redox homeostasis and the OMA1/OPA1 axis

Micol Silic-Benussi, Gloria Scattolin, Ilaria Cavallari, Sonia Minuzzo, Paola Del Bianco, Samuela Francescato, Giuseppe Basso, Stefano Indraccolo, Donna M D'Agostino, Vincenzo Ciminale

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Approximately 20% of pediatric T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) patients are currently incurable due to primary or secondary resistance to glucocorticoid-based therapies. Here we employed an integrated approach to selectively kill T-ALL cells by increasing mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) using NS1619, a benzimidazolone that activates the K+ (BK) channel, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which blunts ROS scavenging through inhibition of the pentose phosphate pathway. These compounds selectively killed T-ALL cell lines, patient-derived xenografts and primary cells from patients with refractory T-ALL, but did not kill normal human thymocytes. T-ALL cells treated with NS1619 and DHEA showed activation of the ROS-responsive transcription factor NRF2, indicating engagement of antioxidant pathways, as well as increased cleavage of OPA1, a mitochondrial protein that promotes mitochondrial fusion and regulates apoptosis. Consistent with these observations, transmission electron microscopy analysis indicated that NS1619 and DHEA increased mitochondrial fission. OPA1 cleavage and cell death were inhibited by ROS scavengers and by siRNA-mediated knockdown of the mitochondrial protease OMA1, indicating the engagement of a ROS-OMA1-OPA1 axis in T-ALL cells. Furthermore, NS1619 and DHEA sensitized T-ALL cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis. In vivo, the combination of dexamethasone and NS1619 significantly reduced the growth of a glucocorticoid-resistant patient-derived T-ALL xenograft. Taken together, our findings provide proof-of-principle for an integrated ROS-based pharmacological approach to target refractory T-ALL.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)822
JournalCell Death and Disease
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2018


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