Apicidin, a histone deacetylase inhibitor, is a novel cyclic tetrapeptide with potent antiproliferative activity against various cancer cells. We examined whether apicidin potentiates the imatinib-induced apoptosis of Bcr-Abl-positive human leukaemia cells. In K562 cells, the co-administration of minimally toxic concentrations of imatinib and apicidin (imatinib/apicidin) for 48 h produced a marked increase in mitochondrial damage, processing of caspase cascades and apoptosis. Similar results were observed in leukaemic blasts obtained from patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia in blast crisis. Imatinib/apicidin co-treatment for 48 h resulted in a near complete loss of the full-length XIAP (X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis) protein, with a corresponding increase in the 29-kDa XIAP cleavage product. Both the degradation of XIAP and increased release of second mitochondria-derived activator of caspase/direct IAP-binding protein with low pI (Smac/DIABLO) into the cytosol were abrogated by pretreatment with the caspase-3 inhibitor DEVD-CHO. Imatinib/apicidin co-treatment for 48 h produced a prominent decrease in Bcr-Abl protein levels in a caspase-dependent manner. In summary, these data indicate that apicidin potentiates the imatinib-induced apoptosis of Bcr-Abl-positive leukaemia cells through the enhanced activation of the mitochondria-dependent caspase cascades, accompanied by caspase-dependent downregulation of Bcr-Abl and XIAP. These findings generate a rationale for further investigation of apicidin and imatinib as a potential therapeutic strategy in Bcr-Abl-positive leukaemias.
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