ULK1 inhibition as a targeted therapeutic strategy for FLT3-ITD-mutated acute myeloid leukemia

Doh Yu Hwang, Ju In Eom, Ji Eun Jang, Hoi Kyung Jeung, Haerim Chung, Jin Seok Kim, June Won Cheong, Yoo Hong Min

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In acute myeloid leukemia (AML), internal tandem duplication mutations in the FLT3 tyrosine kinase receptor (FLT3-ITD) are associated with a dismal outcome. Although uncoordinated 51-like kinase 1 (ULK1), which plays a central role in the autophagy pathway, has emerged as a novel therapeutic target for various cancers, its role in FLT3-ITD AML remains elusive. In this study, we evaluated the effects of ULK1 inhibition on leukemia cell death in FLT3-ITD AML. Method: We evaluated ULK1 expression and the levels of apoptosis and autophagy following ULK1 inhibition in FLT3-ITD AML cell lines and investigated the mechanism underlying apoptosis induced by ULK1 inhibition. Statistical analysis was performed using GraphPad Prism 4.0 (GraphPad Software Inc). Results: FLT3-ITD AML cells showed significantly higher ULK1 expression than FLT3-wild-type (WT) AML cells. Two ULK1 inhibitors, MRT 68921 and SBI-0206965, induced apoptosis in FLT3-ITD AML cells, with relatively minimal effects on FLT3-WT AML cells and normal CD34-positive cells. Apoptosis induction by ULK1 inhibition was associated with caspase pathway activation. Interestingly, ULK1 inhibition paradoxically also induced autophagy, showing synergistic interaction with autophagy inhibitors. Hence, autophagy may act as a prosurvival mechanism in FLT3-ITD AML cells. FLT3-ITD protein degradation and inhibition of the ERK, AKT, and STAT5 pathways were also observed in FLT3-ITD AML cells following treatment with ULK1 inhibitors. Conclusion: ULK1 is a viable drug target and ULK1 inhibition may represent a promising therapeutic strategy against FLT3-ITD AML.

Original languageEnglish
Article number85
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May 11

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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