The c-Myc multifunctional transcription factor protein, a product on the c-myc proto-oncogene, contributes to the pathogenesis of many types of human cancers through mechanisms of proliferation, apoptosis, cell cycle progression and cellular senescence. c-Myc is frequently overexpressed in acute myeloid leukemia, yet strategies to effectively modulate c-Myc function do not exist. We evaluated inhibition of c-myc gene expression by APTO-253, a small molecule anticancer agent that is being developed clinically for the treatment of acute myelogenous (myeloid) leukemia (AML) and high risk myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). We first confirmed that c-Myc mRNA level were significantly higher in AML cell lines as compared to peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) isolated from healthy human donors. However, the c-Myc expression in AML cells was inhibited by APTO-253 in dose-dependent and time-dependent manners at both the mRNA and protein levels. Likewise, APTO-253 was found to induce AML cell apoptosis in dose-dependent and time-dependent manners as demonstrated by positive Annexin-V staining and increases in cleaved poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (c-PARP). APTO-253 induced AML cells arrest at G1/G0 phase of cell cycle by increasing p21 expression and decreasing expression of cyclin D3 and cyclin-dependent kinases 4/6 (CDK4/6). For the p53 positive cell lines MV4-11 and EOL-1, p53 was also increased by APTO-253 at early time points (less than 6-hour treatment), suggesting that p53-dependent cell cycle arrest and apoptosis is mechanistically operative as a consequence of treatment with APTO-253. Importantly, we demonstrated that APTO-253 selectively targeted tumor cells but not normal healthy cells, with MV4-11 AML cells and normal PBMCs having IC50s of 0.25±0.03µM and more than 100µM, respectively. Our previous studies (56th ASH abstract #4813) showed that APTO-253 induces the Krüppel-like Factor 4 (KLF4) transcription factor and was effective and well tolerated as a single agent in multiple AML xenograft models without causing bone marrow suppression. Taken together, our results suggested that APTO-253 may serve as an effective and safe agent for AML chemotherapy, and that APTO-253 mechanistically inhibits c-Myc expression in AML cells and subsequently induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.