The sorafenib plus nutlin-3 combination promotes synergistic cytotoxicity in acute myeloid leukemic cells irrespectively of FLT3 and p53 status

Giorgio Zauli, Claudio Celeghini, Elisabetta Melloni, Rebecca Voltan, Manuele Ongari, Mario Tiribelli, Maria Grazia di Iasio, Francesco Lanza, Paola Secchiero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background Both the multi-kinase inhibitor sorafenib and the small molecule inhibitor of the MDM2/p53 interaction, nutlin-3, used alone, have shown promising anti-leukemic activity in acute myeloid leukemia cells. Thus, in this study we investigated the effect of the combination of sorafenib plus nutlin-3 in acute myeloid leukemia. Design and Methods Primary acute myeloid leukemia blasts (n=13) and FLT3wild-type/p53wild-type (OCI-AML3), FLT3mutated/ p53wild-type (MOLM), FLT3mutated/p53mutated (MV4-11), FLT3wild-type/p53deleted (HL60) or FLT3wildtype/ p53mutated (NB4) acute myeloid cell lines were exposed to sorafenib, used alone or in association with nutlin-3 at a 1:1 ratio, in a range of clinically achievable concentrations (1-10 mM). Induction of apoptosis and autophagy was evaluated by transmission electron microscopy and by specific flow cytometry analyses. The levels of Mcl-1, p53 and Bak proteins were analyzed by western blotting. Knock-down of Bax and Bak gene expression was performed in transfection experiments with specific short interfering RNA. Results The sorafenib+nutlin-3 drug combination exhibits synergistic cytotoxicity in primary acute myeloid leukemia blasts and in acute myeloid leukemia cell lines with maximal cytotoxicity in FLT3mutated MV4-11 and MOLM, followed by the FLT3wild-type OCI-AML3, HL60 and NB4 cell lines. The cytotoxic activity of sorafenib+nutlin-3 was characterized by an increase of both apoptosis and autophagy. Moreover, Bax and Bak showed prominent roles in mediating the decrease of cell viability in response to the drug combination in p53wild-type OCI-AML3 and p53deleted HL-60 cells, respectively, as demonstrated in transfection experiments performed with specific short interfering RNA. Conclusions Our data demonstrate that acute myeloid leukemia cells show a variable but overall good susceptibility to the innovative therapeutic combination of sorafenib+nutlin-3, which differentially involves the pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members Bax and Bak in p53wild-type and p53deleted cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1722-1730
Number of pages9
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2012



  • Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Nutlin-3
  • P53
  • Sorafenib

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology

Cite this

Zauli, G., Celeghini, C., Melloni, E., Voltan, R., Ongari, M., Tiribelli, M., di Iasio, M. G., Lanza, F., & Secchiero, P. (2012). The sorafenib plus nutlin-3 combination promotes synergistic cytotoxicity in acute myeloid leukemic cells irrespectively of FLT3 and p53 status. Haematologica, 97(11), 1722-1730.