Rational Design of a Parthenolide-based Drug Regimen That Selectively Eradicates Acute Myelogenous Leukemia Stem Cells

J Biol Chem. 2016 Oct 14;291(42):21984-22000. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M116.750653. Epub 2016 Aug 29.


Although multidrug approaches to cancer therapy are common, few strategies are based on rigorous scientific principles. Rather, drug combinations are largely dictated by empirical or clinical parameters. In the present study we developed a strategy for rational design of a regimen that selectively targets human acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) stem cells. As a starting point, we used parthenolide, an agent shown to target critical mechanisms of redox balance in primary AML cells. Next, using proteomic, genomic, and metabolomic methods, we determined that treatment with parthenolide leads to induction of compensatory mechanisms that include up-regulated NADPH production via the pentose phosphate pathway as well as activation of the Nrf2-mediated oxidative stress response pathway. Using this knowledge we identified 2-deoxyglucose and temsirolimus as agents that can be added to a parthenolide regimen as a means to inhibit such compensatory events and thereby further enhance eradication of AML cells. We demonstrate that the parthenolide, 2-deoxyglucose, temsirolimus (termed PDT) regimen is a potent means of targeting AML stem cells but has little to no effect on normal stem cells. Taken together our findings illustrate a comprehensive approach to designing combination anticancer drug regimens.

Keywords: 2-deoxyglucose; anticancer drug; drug combination; drug development; drug resistance; endoplasmic reticulum stress (ER stress); leukemia; oxidative stress; parthenolide; temsirolimus.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / pharmacology*
  • Deoxyglucose / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Leukemic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / metabolism*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology
  • Male
  • NADP / biosynthesis
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Sesquiterpenes / pharmacology
  • Sirolimus / analogs & derivatives
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects


  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • parthenolide
  • NADP
  • temsirolimus
  • Deoxyglucose
  • Sirolimus