Effects of the PI-3 kinase inhibitor LY294002 (LY) have been examined in relation to responses of human leukemia cells to histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDIs). Coexposure of U937 cells for 24 h to marginally toxic concentrations of LY294002 (e.g., 30 microM) and sodium butyrate (SB; 1 mM) resulted in a marked increase in mitochondrial damage (e.g., cytochrome c and Smac/DIABLO release, loss of DeltaPsi(m)), caspase activation, and apoptosis. Similar results were observed in Jurkat, HL-60, and K562 leukemic cells and with other HDIs (e.g., SAHA, MS-275). Exposure of cells to SB/LY was associated with Bcl-2 and Bid cleavage, XIAP and Mcl-1 downregulation, and diminished CD11b expression. While LY blocked SB-mediated Akt activation, enforced expression of a constitutively active (myristolated) Akt failed to attenuate SB/LY-mediated lethality. Unexpectedly, treatment of cells with SB+/-LY resulted in a marked reduction in phosphorylation (activation) of p44/42 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase. Moreover, enforced expression of a constitutively active MEK1 construct partially but significantly attenuated SB/LY-induced apoptosis. Lastly, cotreatment with LY blocked SB-mediated induction of p21(CIP1/WAF1); moreover, enforced expression of p21(CIP1/WAF1) significantly reduced SB/LY-mediated apoptosis. Together, these findings indicate that LY promotes SB-mediated apoptosis through an AKT-independent process that involves MEK/MAP kinase inactivation and interference with p21(CIP1/WAF1) induction.