Survival rates for pediatric patients suffering from mixed lineage leukemia (MLL)-rearranged leukemia remain below 50% and more targeted, less toxic therapies are urgently needed. A screening method optimized to discover cytotoxic compounds selective for MLL-rearranged leukemia identified CCI-006 as a novel inhibitor of MLL-rearranged and CALM-AF10 translocated leukemias that share common leukemogenic pathways. CCI-006 inhibited mitochondrial respiration and induced mitochondrial membrane depolarization and apoptosis in a subset (7/11, 64%) of MLL-rearranged leukemia cell lines within a few hours of treatment. The unresponsive MLL-rearranged leukemia cells did not undergo mitochondrial membrane depolarization or apoptosis despite a similar attenuation of mitochondrial respiration by the compound. In comparison to the sensitive cells, the unresponsive MLL-rearranged leukemia cells were characterized by a more glycolytic metabolic phenotype, exemplified by a more pronounced sensitivity to glycolysis inhibitors and elevated HIF1α expression. Silencing of HIF1α expression sensitized an intrinsically unresponsive MLL-rearranged leukemia cell to CCI-006, indicating that this pathway plays a role in determining sensitivity to the compound. In addition, unresponsive MLL-rearranged leukemia cells expressed increased levels of MEIS1, an important leukemogenic MLL target gene that plays a role in regulating metabolic phenotype through HIF1α. MEIS1 expression was also variable in a pediatric MLL-rearranged ALL patient dataset, highlighting the existence of a previously undescribed metabolic variability in MLL-rearranged leukemia that may contribute to the heterogeneity of the disease. This study thus identified a novel small molecule that rapidly kills MLL-rearranged leukemia cells by targeting a metabolic vulnerability in a subset of low HIF1α/low MEIS1-expressing MLL-rearranged leukemia cells.
- paediatric cancer