We investigated the effects of the autophagy inhibitor hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) on cell death of cytosine arabinoside (Ara-C)-resistant human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells. Ara-C-sensitive (U937, AML-2) and Ara-C-resistant (U937/AR, AML-2/AR) human AML cell lines were used to evaluate HCQ-regulated cytotoxicity, autophagy, and apoptosis as well as effects on cell death-related signaling pathways. We found that HCQ-induced dose- and time-dependent cell death in Ara-C-resistant cells compared to Ara-C-sensitive cell lines. The extent of cell death and features of HCQ-induced autophagic markers including increase in microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 (LC3) I conversion to LC3-II, beclin-1, ATG5, as well as green fluorescent protein-LC3 positive puncta and autophagosome were remarkably greater in U937/AR cells. Also, p62/SQSTM1 was increased in response to HCQ. p62/SQSTM1 protein interacts with both LC3-II and ubiquitin protein and is degraded in autophagosomes. Therefore, a reduction of p62/SQSTM1 indicates increased autophagic degradation, whereas an increase of p62/SQSTM1 by HCQ indicates inhibited autophagic degradation. Knock down of p62/SQSTM1 using siRNA were prevented the HCQ-induced LC3-II protein level as well as significantly reduced the HCQ-induced cell death in U937/AR cells. Also, apoptotic cell death and caspase activation in U937/AR cells were increased by HCQ, provided evidence that HCQ-induced autophagy blockade. Taken together, our data show that HCQ-induced apoptotic cell death in Ara-C-resistant AML cells through autophagy regulation.
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