Introduction: LIM kinases 1 and 2 (LIMK1/2) are downstream effectors at the crossroads of different signaling pathways implicated in the dynamics of the cytoskeleton via phosphorylation of cofilin family proteins, degradation of the matrix by phosphorylating MT1-MMP and control of the activity of Aurora kinase A. Recently, the oncogenic role of Rho kinases (ROCK) was identified to be constitutively activated by BCR-ABL1, FLT3-ITD and KIT in hematologic malignancies via PI3 kinase and Rho GTPase mediated phosphorylation. Upon activation, ROCK phosphorylates LIMK1/2 leading to inactivation of cofilin by its phosphorylation and polymerization of actin and microtubules and possibly to other biological effects mediated by LIMK1/2, not yet fully understood. Here, we demonstrate synergy of a LIMK1/2 inhibitor with BCR-ABL1 tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) in vitro and in vivo in different models for BCR-ABL1 driven ALL.

Materials and Methods: Expression of LIMK1/2 was determined by RT-qPCR and WB in cell lines. Phosphorylation of cofilin was detected by WB. A small molecule inhibitor of LIMK1/2 was tested alone and in combination with imatinib, dasatinib, nilotinib and ponatinib in BCR-ABL1 positive ALL cell lines TOM-1 and BV-173. Cell viability and IC50 was assessed by MTS assays after exposure to LIMK1/2 inhibitor for 72h. In combination experiments, compounds were added simultaneously and relative cell numbers were determined at 72h with MTS assays and combination index (CI) values were calculated according to the Chou-Talalay model. Cell-cycle distribution was determined by cytofluorometric analysis detecting nuclear propidium iodide (PI) DNA intercalation. Induction of apoptosis was evaluated by annexin-V exposure and PI incorporation at 72h with increasing doses of LIMK1/2 inhibitor. Peripheral blood (PB) nucleated cells from apharesis products of healthy donors obtained after informed consent according to Helsinki declaration were incubated with or without LIMK1/2 inhibitor for 72h, and then enriched for CD34+ cells by immuno-magnetic selection and seeded in triplicate in methylcellulose FCS and cytokines. In vivo experiments were performed in C57Bl/6 mice injected with BCR-ABL-induced B-ALL cells. These were obtained by transduction of CDKN2A-deficient B-cell progenitors with a retrovirus coding for BCR-ABL1 (P185) and GFP, followed by transplantation in sub-lethally-irradiated recipient C57Bl/6 mice. Mice were treated either with LIMK1/2 inhibitor, nilotinib or the combination of both and compared to untreated control mice.

Results: Expression of the two isoforms LIMK1 and LIMK2 in TOM-1 and BV-173 cells could be detected by RT-qPCR and at the protein level by WB. IC50 after LIMK1/2 inhibitor exposure alone was 580nM in TOM-1 cells and 1000nM in BV-173 cells. All combination experiments with the LIMK1/2 inhibitor and imatinib, dasatinib, nilotinib and ponatinib yielded synergistic CI for treatment of both TOM-1 and BV-173 cell lines. Cell cycle arrest in the G1/S transition was detected and LIMK1/2 inhibition induced dose dependent apoptosis in TOM-1 and BV-173 cells up to 40% at doses <1000nM. Upon treatment with the LIMK1/2 inhibitor, decrease of LIMK1 protein expression could be detected by WB, while LIMK2 expression was left unaffected. In both cell lines, LIMK1/2 inhibitor exposure lead to activating downstream dephosphorylation of cofilin as expected. No significant toxicity of increasing doses of LIMK1/2 inhibitor after exposure of CD34+ cells from healthy donors could be detected. To test the in vivo activity of LIMK1/2 inhibition, C57Bl/6 mice were transplanted with CDKN2Ako/BCR-ABL1+ B-ALL cells. Leukemic mice were treated with LIMK1/2 inhibitor alone, nilotinib or combination of LIMK1/2 inhibitor and nilotinib compared to untreated mice. The combination of nilotinib and LIMK1/2 inhibitor significantly delayed the appearance of leukemic cells in PB as detected by GFP+ cells once weekly or at death if possible with mice considered having leukemia if >1% GFP+ cells were detected in PB. Furthermore, nilotinib+LIMK1/2 inhibitor prolonged significantly the survival of mice compared to either nilotinib (p=0.0006) or LIMK1/2 inhibitor alone and untreated mice (p<0.0001) (Figure 1).

Conclusion: Combination of LIMK1/2 inhibitor with BCR-ABL targeting TKI is synergistic and has significant anti-leukemic activity in BCR-ABL1+ ALL in vitro and in vivo models.


Braun:CELLIPSE: Research Funding. Prudent:CELLIPSE: Employment. Paublant:CELLIPSE: Employment. Baruchel:Jazz Pharmaceuticals: Consultancy, Honoraria, Other: Travel, accommodations or expenses; Shire: Research Funding; Servier: Consultancy; Amgen: Consultancy; Novartis: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Celgene: Consultancy; Roche: Consultancy. Dombret:CELLIPSE: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.