Calcineurin (Cn) is a calcium activated protein phosphatase involved in many aspects of normal T cell physiology, however the role of Cn and/or its downstream targets in leukemogenesis are still ill-defined. In order to identify putative downstream targets/effectors involved in the pro-oncogenic activity of Cn in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) we used tandem affinity chromatography, followed by mass spectrometry to purify novel Cn-interacting partners. We found the Cn-interacting proteins to be part of numerous cellular signaling pathways including eIF2 signaling and mTOR signaling. Coherently, modulation of Cn activity in T-ALL cells determined alterations in the phosphorylation status of key molecules implicated in protein translation such as eIF-2α and ribosomal protein S6. Joint targeting of PI3K-mTOR, eIF-2α and 14-3-3 signaling pathways with Cn unveiled novel synergistic pro-apoptotic drug combinations. Further analysis disclosed that the synergistic interaction between PI3K-mTOR and Cn inhibitors was prevalently due to AKT inhibition. Finally, we showed that the synergistic pro-apoptotic response determined by jointly targeting AKT and Cn pathways was linked to down-modulation of key anti-apoptotic proteins including Mcl-1, Claspin and XIAP. In conclusion, we identify AKT inhibition as a novel promising drug combination to potentiate the pro-apoptotic effects of Cn inhibitors.
Keywords: T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia; apoptosis; calcineurin; mTOR signaling; protein complex.