P38α/β has been described as a tumor-suppressor controlling cell cycle checkpoints and senescence in epithelial malignancies. However, p38α/β also regulates other cellular processes. Here, we describe a role of p38α/β as a regulator of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) proliferation and survival in experimental ALL models. We also report first evidence that p38α/β phosphorylation is associated with the occurrence of relapses in TEL-AML1-positive leukemia. First, in vitro experiments show that p38α/β signaling is induced in a cyclical manner upon initiation of proliferation and remains activated during log-phase of cell growth. Next, we provide evidence that growth-permissive signals in the bone marrow activate p38α/β in a novel avian ALL model, in which therapeutic targeting can be tested. We further demonstrate that p38α/β inhibition by small molecules can suppress leukemic expansion and prolong survival of mice bearing ALL cell lines and primary cells. Knockdown of p38α strongly delays leukemogenesis in mice xenografted with cell lines. Finally, we show that in xenografted TEL-AML1 patients, ex vivo p38α/β phosphorylation is associated with an inferior long-term relapse-free survival. We propose p38α/β as a mediator of proliferation and survival in ALL and show first preclinical evidence for p38α/β inhibition as an adjunct approach to conventional therapies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research