The ferroptosis inducer erastin enhances sensitivity of acute myeloid leukemia cells to chemotherapeutic agents

Mol Cell Oncol. 2015 May 26;2(4):e1054549. doi: 10.1080/23723556.2015.1054549. eCollection 2015 Oct-Dec.


Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common type of leukemia in adults. Development of resistance to chemotherapeutic agents is a major hurdle in the effective treatment of patients with AML. The quinazolinone derivative erastin was originally identified in a screen for small molecules that exhibit synthetic lethality with expression of the RAS oncogene. This lethality was subsequently shown to occur by induction of a novel form of cell death termed ferroptosis. In this study we demonstrate that erastin enhances the sensitivity of AML cells to chemotherapeutic agents in an RAS-independent manner. Erastin dose-dependently induced mixed types of cell death associated with ferroptosis, apoptosis, necroptosis, and autophagy in HL-60 cells (AML, NRAS_Q61L), but not Jurkat (acute T-cell leukemia, RAS wild type), THP-1 (AML, NRAS_G12D), K562 (chronic myelogenous leukemia, RAS wild type), or NB-4 (acute promyelocytic leukemia M3, KRAS_A18D) cells. Treatment with ferrostatin-1 (a potent ferroptosis inhibitor) or necrostatin-1 (a potent necroptosis inhibitor), but not with Z-VAD-FMK (a general caspase inhibitor) or chloroquine (a potent autophagy inhibitor), prevented erastin-induced growth inhibition in HL-60 cells. Moreover, inhibition of c-JUN N-terminal kinase and p38, but not of extracellular signal-regulated kinase activation, induced resistance to erastin in HL-60 cells. Importantly, low-dose erastin significantly enhanced the anticancer activity of 2 first-line chemotherapeutic drugs (cytarabine/ara-C and doxorubicin/adriamycin) in HL-60 cells. Collectively, the induction of ferroptosis and necroptosis contributed to erastin-induced growth inhibition and overcame drug resistance in AML cells.

Keywords: AML; autophagy; erastin; ferroptosis; necroptosis.