Synergistic induction of p53 mediated apoptosis by valproic acid and nutlin-3 in acute myeloid leukemia

Leukemia. 2012 May;26(5):910-7. doi: 10.1038/leu.2011.315. Epub 2011 Nov 8.


Although TP53 mutations are rare in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), wild type p53 function is habitually annulled through overexpression of MDM2 or through various mechanisms including epigenetic silencing by histone deacetylases (HDACs). We hypothesized that co-inhibition of MDM2 and HDACs, with nutlin-3 and valproic acid (VPA) would additively inhibit growth in leukemic cells expressing wild type TP53 and induce p53-mediated apoptosis. In vitro studies with the combination demonstrated synergistic induction of apoptosis in AML cell lines and patient cells. Nutlin-3 and VPA co-treatment resulted in massive induction of p53, acetylated p53 and p53 target genes in comparison with either agent alone, followed by p53 dependent cell death with autophagic features. In primary AML cells, inhibition of proliferation by the combination therapy correlated with the CD34 expression level of AML blasts. To evaluate the combination in vivo, we developed an orthotopic, NOD/SCID IL2rγ(null) xenograft model of MOLM-13 (AML FAB M5a; wild type TP53) expressing firefly luciferase. Survival analysis and bioluminescent imaging demonstrated the superior in vivo efficacy of the dual inhibition of MDM2 and HDAC in comparison with controls. Our results suggest the concomitant targeting of MDM2-p53 and HDAC inhibition, may be an effective therapeutic strategy for the treatment of AML.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD34 / metabolism
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Genes, p53*
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, SCID
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Piperazines / pharmacology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Antigens, CD34
  • Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors
  • Imidazoles
  • Piperazines
  • nutlin 3
  • Valproic Acid
  • MDM2 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2