The Unfolded Protein Response: A Novel Therapeutic Target in Acute Leukemias

Alberto M Martelli, Francesca Paganelli, Francesca Chiarini, Camilla Evangelisti, James A McCubrey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The unfolded protein response (UPR) is an evolutionarily conserved adaptive response triggered by the stress of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) due, among other causes, to altered cell protein homeostasis (proteostasis). UPR is mediated by three main sensors, protein kinase RNA-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK), activating transcription factor 6α (ATF6α), and inositol-requiring enzyme-1α (IRE1α). Given that proteostasis is frequently disregulated in cancer, UPR is emerging as a critical signaling network in controlling the survival, selection, and adaptation of a variety of neoplasias, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and glioblastoma. Indeed, cancer cells can escape from the apoptotic pathways elicited by ER stress by switching UPR into a prosurvival mechanism instead of cell death. Although most of the studies on UPR focused on solid tumors, this intricate network plays a critical role in hematological malignancies, and especially in multiple myeloma (MM), where treatment with proteasome inhibitors induce the accumulation of unfolded proteins that severely perturb proteostasis, thereby leading to ER stress, and, eventually, to apoptosis. However, UPR is emerging as a key player also in acute leukemias, where recent evidence points to the likelihood that targeting UPR-driven prosurvival pathways could represent a novel therapeutic strategy. In this review, we focus on the oncogene-specific regulation of individual UPR signaling arms, and we provide an updated outline of the genetic, biochemical, and preclinical therapeutic findings that support UPR as a relevant, novel target in acute leukemias.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2020


  • apoptosis
  • genetic anomalies
  • prognosis
  • survival
  • Targeted therapy


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