Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a near incurable disease with 5-year survival rates of 10% in older patients. Poor tolerance to chemotherapy, chemo resistance and high rate of relapse warrants less toxic and more effective regimens in AML. AML leads to a block in normal myeloid differentiation, leading to an accumulation of undifferentiated blasts. Thus, therapies directed towards promoting these cells to differentiate re-establishes the ability of AML cells to undergo cell death, reducing the leukemic population. Such differentiation therapy with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) has been successful in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), but not in other AML subtypes resistant to ATRA, thus presenting a promising and unexploited avenue for targeted therapies. There is accumulating evidence that Protein Kinase C (PKC) activation induces myeloid differentiation. However, since most PKC activators are either tumor promoters or have inconclusive activity, their potential for use in AML has yet to be realized. OSU-2S is a non-immunosuppressive derivative of FTY720 (a sphingosine analogue with anti-tumorigenic properties) and has previously been reported to directly activate PKC to mediate cytotoxicity, showing promising in vitro and in vivo activity against a number of leukemias and lymphomas, and other malignancies such as hepatocellular carcinoma. This impelled us to evaluate the activity of OSU-2S in causing cell death and differentiation in AML. We found that OSU-2S resulted in increased activation of PKC in HL-60 cells. In addition to effecting significant dose-dependent cytotoxicity against AML cell lines HL-60, MV4-11 and MOLM-13 [mean decrease in viability with OSU-2S in HL-60: 85±7% (p=0.08), MV4-11: 74±20% (p=0.02), MOLM-13: 60±25% (p=0.04)], and in primary samples from leukemic patients, including high risk FLT3-ITD mutated AMLs (65±8% decrease in viability with OSU-2S, p<0.0001, n=13, dose trend p<0.0001), OSU-2S caused a significant upregulation of CD11b, a cell-surface marker associated with myeloid maturation, in HL-60 and primary AML samples [(25±5% and 14±7% increase in CD11b+ cells with OSU-2S vs vehicle control in HL-60 (p =0.0126) and primary AML (p=0.043) cells respectively]. In addition, OSU-2S treated HL-60 and primary AML cells exhibited morphological features indicative of differentiation, as evidenced by lower nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio, and highly vacuolated and granulated cytoplasm. The observed differentiation activity prompted us to test if OSU-2S affected the leukemia-initiating cell population. Colony forming assays showed OSU-2S significantly reduced the number of colony forming units-leukemic (CFU-L) in primary AML blasts (52±13% decrease in CFU-L in response to OSU-2S vs vehicle control; p=0.018, n=4). OSU-2S mediated cytotoxicity was significantly abrogated in the presence of PKC inhibitor Bisindolylmaleimide (BIS) in HL-60 cell line [39±8% decrease in OSU-2S induced cytotoxicity in the presence of BIS vs control (p=0.008), n=3] as well as in primary AML cells [41±16% decrease in OSU-2S induced cytotoxicity (p=0.02), n=6], indicating that OSU-2S mediates its cytotoxic effects in AML via PKC activation.

To further gain insight into the mechanism of cell death and differentiation effected by OSU-2S, we performed RNA-Sequencing analysis of total RNA isolated from MV4-11 cells treated with OSU-2S. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis on these transcripts showed significant changes in gene expression affecting cell cycle regulation and proliferation (p=10-13). Cell cycle analysis of MV4-11, HL-60 and U-937 cells by PI staining followed by flow cytometry confirmed a decrease in cells in G2/M phase of the cell cycle associated with increased cells in S but not Go/G1 phase (69.63% decrease in G2/M phase cells with OSU-2S vs vehicle control, p=0.04). Current ongoing studies in cell line-derived xenografted mouse models of AML indicate favorable therapeutic effect of OSU-2S in providing survival advantage in AML. Tumor burden monitoring by bioluminescent imaging shows reduction in tumor burden following OSU-2S treatment. Our results show promising pre-clinical efficacy of OSU-2S against AML, and warrants further studies to establish clinical efficacy as a potential therapeutic agent. Ongoing studies are also directed towards studying the involvement and role of PKC and other target molecules in the cell death and differentiation effected by OSU-2S.


Walker: Gilead: Research Funding. Mims: Novartis: Honoraria. Chen: The Ohio State University: Patents & Royalties: OSU-2S. Byrd: Pharmacyclics: Research Funding; Acerta Pharma: Research Funding; Janssen: Research Funding; Genentech: Research Funding; The Ohio State University: Patents & Royalties: OSU-2S. Vasu: Boehringer-Ingelheim: Research Funding; Stemline Therapeutics: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.