Primary effusion lymphoma (PEL) is a lymphoma that shows malignant effusion in body cavities without contiguous tumor masses and has a very poor prognosis. We recently developed a novel drug screening system using patient-derived xenograft (PDX) cells that maintained the primary cell phenotype better than cell lines. This screening is expected to discover anti-tumor drugs that have been overlooked by conventional screening using cell lines. We herein performed this screening to identify new therapeutic agents for PEL.
We screened 3518 compounds with known pharmaceutical activities based on cytotoxic effects on PDX cells of PEL and selected YM155, a possible survivin inhibitor. It exerted strong anti-tumor effects in PDX cells and three cell lines of PEL; the GI50 of YM155 was 1.2–7.9 nM. We found that YM155 reduced myeloid cell leukemia-1 (MCL-1) protein levels prior to decreasing survivin levels, and this was inhibited by a proteasome inhibitor. The knockdown of MCL-1 by siRNA induced cell death in a PEL cell line, suggesting the involvement of decreased MCL-1 levels in YM155-induced cell death. YM155 also induced the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and MCL-1, and a MEK1 inhibitor inhibited the phosphorylation of ERK1/2, degradation of MCL-1, and YM155-induced apoptosis. These results indicate that YM155 induces the proteasome-dependent degradation of MCL-1 through its phosphorylation by ERK1/2 and causes apoptosis in PEL cells. Furthermore, a treatment with YM155 significantly inhibited the development of ascites in PEL PDX mice. These results suggest the potential of YM155 as an anti-cancer agent for PEL.