Arsenic trioxide (As2O3) exhibits potent antineoplastic effects and is used extensively in clinical oncology for the treatment of a subset of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Although As2O3 is known to regulate activation of several signaling cascades, the key events, accounting for its antileukemic properties, remain to be de fined. We provide evidence that arsenic can directly bind to cysteine 299 in AMPKα and inhibit its activity. This inhibition of AMPK by arsenic is required in part for its cytotoxic effects on primitive leukemic progenitors from patients with AML, while concomitant treatment with an AMPK activator antagonizes in vivo the arsenic-induced antileukemic effects in a xenograft AML mouse model. A consequence of AMPK inhibition is activation of the mTOR pathway as a negative regulatory feedback loop. However, when AMPK expression is lost, arsenic-dependent activation of the kinase RSK downstream of MAPK activity compensates the generation of regulatory feedback signals through phosphorylation of downstream mTOR targets. Thus, therapeutic regimens with As2O3 will need to include inhibitors of both the mTOR and RSK pathways in combination to prevent engagement of negative feedback loops and maximize antineoplastic responses.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research