Synergism through WEE1 and CHK1 inhibition in acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Andrea Ghelli Luserna Di Rorà, Matteo Bocconcelli, Anna Ferrari, Carolina Terragna, Samantha Bruno, Enrica Imbrogno, Neil Beeharry, Valentina Robustelli, Martina Ghetti, Roberta Napolitano, Gabriella Chirumbolo, Giovanni Marconi, Cristina Papayannidis, Stefania Paolini, Chiara Sartor, Giorgia Simonetti, Timothy J. Yen, Giovanni Martinelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Screening for synthetic lethality markers has demonstrated that the inhibition of the cell cycle checkpoint kinases WEE1 together with CHK1 drastically affects stability of the cell cycle and induces cell death in rapidly proliferating cells. Exploiting this finding for a possible therapeutic approach has showed efficacy in various solid and hematologic tumors, though not specifically tested in acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Methods: The efficacy of the combination between WEE1 and CHK1 inhibitors in B and T cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B/T-ALL) was evaluated in vitro and ex vivo studies. The efficacy of the therapeutic strategy was tested in terms of cytotoxicity, induction of apoptosis, and changes in cell cycle profile and protein expression using B/T-ALL cell lines. In addition, the efficacy of the drug combination was studied in primary B-ALL blasts using clonogenic assays. Results: This study reports, for the first time, the efficacy of the concomitant inhibition of CHK1/CHK2 and WEE1 in ALL cell lines and primary leukemic B-ALL cells using two selective inhibitors: PF-0047736 (CHK1/CHK2 inhibitor) and AZD-1775 (WEE1 inhibitor). We showed strong synergism in the reduction of cell viability, proliferation and induction of apoptosis. The efficacy of the combination was related to the induction of early S-phase arrest and to the induction of DNA damage, ultimately triggering cell death. We reported evidence that the efficacy of the combination treatment is independent from the activation of the p53-p21 pathway. Moreover, gene expression analysis on B-ALL primary samples showed that Chek1 and Wee1 are significantly co-expressed in samples at diagnosis (Pearson r = 0.5770, p = 0.0001) and relapse (Pearson r= 0.8919; p = 0.0001). Finally, the efficacy of the combination was confirmed by the reduction in clonogenic survival of primary leukemic B-ALL cells. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that the combination of CHK1 and WEE1 inhibitors may be a promising therapeutic strategy to be tested in clinical trials for adult ALL.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1654
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • CHK1
  • DNA damage response
  • Synergism
  • WEE1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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