Gain-of-function mutations of FLT3 (FLT3-ITD), comprises up to 30% of normal karyotype acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and is associated with an adverse prognosis. Current FLT3 kinase inhibitors have been tested extensively, but have not yet resulted in a survival benefit and novel therapies are awaited. Here we show that T-LAK cell-originated protein kinase (TOPK), a mitotic kinase highly expressed in and correlated with more aggressive phenotype in several types of cancer, is expressed in AML but not in normal CD34+ cells and that TOPK knockdown decreased cell viability and induced apoptosis. Treatment of AML cells with TOPK inhibitor (OTS514) resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in cell viability with lower IC50 in FLT3-mutated cells, including blasts obtained from patients relapsed after FLT3-inhibitor treatment. Using a MV4-11-engrafted mouse model, we found that mice treated with 7.5 mg/kg IV daily for 3 weeks survived significantly longer than vehicle treated mice (median survival 46 vs 29 days, P < 0.001). Importantly, we identified TOPK as a FLT3-ITD and CEBPA regulated kinase, and that modulating TOPK expression or activity resulted in significant decrease of FLT3 expression and CEBPA phosphorylation. Thus, targeting TOPK in FLT3-ITD AML represents a novel therapeutic approach for this adverse risk subset of AML.
Keywords: AML; CEBPA; FLT3-ITD; TOPK; kinase inhibitor.