Activation of concurrent apoptosis and necroptosis by SMAC mimetics for the treatment of refractory and relapsed ALL

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More precise treatment strategies are urgently needed to decrease toxicity and improve outcomes for treatment-refractory leukemia. We used ex vivo drug response profiling of high-risk, relapsed, or refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cases and identified a subset with exquisite sensitivity to small-molecule mimetics of the second mitochondria-derived activator of caspases (SMAC) protein. Potent ex vivo activity of the SMAC mimetic (SM) birinapant correlated with marked in vivo antileukemic effects, as indicated by delayed engraftment, decreased leukemia burden, and prolonged survival of xenografted mice. Antileukemic activity was dependent on simultaneous execution of apoptosis and necroptosis, as demonstrated by functional genomic dissection with a multicolored lentiCRISPR approach to simultaneously disrupt multiple genes in patient-derived ALL. SM specifically targeted receptor-interacting protein kinase 1 (RIP1)–dependent death, and CRISPR-mediated disruption of RIP1 completely blocked SM-induced death yet had no impact on the response to standard antileukemic agents. Thus, SM compounds such as birinapant circumvent escape from apoptosis in leukemia by activating a potent dual RIP1-dependent apoptotic and necroptotic cell death, which is not exploited by current therapy. Ex vivo drug activity profiling could provide important functional diagnostic information to identify patients who may benefit from targeted treatment with birinapant in early clinical trials.

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