Triptolide, a nature product derived from the Chinese plant Tripterygium wilfordii, is reported to exhibit antitumor effects in a broad range of cancers. Recent studies indicate that the antitumor activity of triptolide is associated with its biological action to inhibit expression of many oncoproteins and anti-apoptotic or survival factors that were expressed in the cancer cells. Herein, we demonstrate that triptolide induces apoptosis in a subgroup of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells that overexpress MDM2 oncoprotein by inhibiting the MDM2 expression. In pediatric ALL, overexpression of MDM2 by leukemic cells is typically associated with a wild-type (wt) p53 phenotype and resistance to conventional chemotherapeutic drugs such as doxorubicin. In the present study, we evaluated the role of triptolide in regulating MDM2 and in inducing apoptosis, as compared to doxorubicin, using ALL lines and primary ALL samples. In contrast to doxorubicin, which induced p53 activation and a subsequent upregulation of MDM2, triptolide strongly induced persistent inhibition of MDM2 followed by a steady-state activation of p53, which resulted in potent apoptosis of the MDM2-overexpressing ALL cells tested, even if they were doxorubicin-resistant. We discovered that triptolide's inhibition of MDM2 in ALL cells occurred at the post-transcriptional level through inhibition of mRNA synthesis. Because p53 function is inhibited by MDM2 in chemoresistant/MDM2-overexpressing ALL cells, potent killing of these cells by triptolide suggests that this naturally-derived agent may be a novel therapeutic for refractory ALL.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.