Altered intracellular signaling by imatinib increases the anti-cancer effects of tyrosine kinase inhibitors in chronic myelogenous leukemia cells

Cancer Sci. 2018 Jan;109(1):121-131. doi: 10.1111/cas.13442. Epub 2017 Dec 7.


Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI), including imatinib (IM), improve the outcome of CML therapy. However, TKI treatment is long-term and can induce resistance to TKI, which often leads to a poor clinical outcome in CML patients. Here, we examined the effect of continuous IM exposure on intracellular energy metabolism in K562 cells, a human Philadelphia chromosome-positive CML cell line, and its subsequent sensitivity to anti-cancer agents. Contrary to our expectations, we found that continuous IM exposure increased sensitivity to TKI. Cancer energy metabolism, characterized by abnormal glycolysis, is linked to cancer cell survival. Interestingly, glycolytic activity was suppressed by continuous exposure to IM, and autophagy increased to maintain cell viability by compensating for glycolytic suppression. Notably, increased sensitivity to TKI was not caused by glycolytic inhibition but by altered intracellular signaling, causing glycolytic suppression and increased autophagy, as evidenced by suppression of p70 S6 kinase 1 (S6K1) and activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). Using another human CML cell line (KCL22 cells) and BCR/ABL+ Ba/F3 cells (mimicking Philadelphia chromosome-positive CML cells) confirmed that suppressing S6K1 and activating AMPK increased sensitivity to TKI. Furthermore, suppressing S6K1 and activating AMPK had a synergistic anti-cancer effect by inhibiting autophagy in the presence of TKI. The present study provides new insight into the importance of signaling pathways that affect cellular energy metabolism, and suggests that co-treatment with agents that disrupt energy metabolic signaling (using S6K1 suppressors and AMPK activators) plus blockade of autophagy may be strategies for TKI-based CML therapy.

Keywords: AMPK; BCR/ABL; S6K1; autophagy; cancer energy metabolism.

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics*
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Drug Synergism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Glycolysis / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Imatinib Mesylate / pharmacology*
  • K562 Cells
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / drug therapy
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / genetics*
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / metabolism
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa / genetics*
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Imatinib Mesylate
  • PRKAG1 protein, human
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa
  • ribosomal protein S6 kinase, 70kD, polypeptide 1
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases