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    Adult T cell leukemia (ATL) is an aggressive and malignant blood disease. We previously reported that steroid-structured cucurbitacin D (CuD) induces apoptosis in ATL cells. In this study, we investigated the effects of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling inhibitors on CuD-induced cell death in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) isolated from ATL/acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) patients and two human leukemia cell lines (MT-1 and MT-4). PBLs were isolated from an ATL/ALL patient as well as from a healthy donor. Cell surface markers were examined using flow cytometry. Serum cytokine levels were estimated using LEGENDplex or analyzed at the Center for Clinical and Translational Research of Kyushu University Hospital. Cell proliferation was assessed using the Cell Titer-Glo luminescent cell viability assay. Protein expression was determined by western blotting. PBLs from patients highly expressed CD4 and CD5. Serum from the patient contained high levels of interleukin (IL)-8, IL-10, IL-18, and interferon-γ compared to the healthy donor. CuD-induced cell death was enhanced by the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK)1/2 inhibitor U0126. However, a c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) inhibitor prevented CuD-induced cell death. Immunoblot analyses revealed that CuD reduced the phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), p38, and JNK, and co-treatment with CuD and U0126 did not affect the phosphorylation of ERK. MEK1/2 and p38 inhibitors enhanced CuD-induced cell death, and U0126 enhanced the CuD-induced de-phosphorylation of ERK in MT-1 and MT-4 cells. We conclude that CuD reduces ERK activation, resulting in enhanced antitumor effects on leukemic cells.


    Duo Wang, Mengyue Shen, Noriaki Kitamura, Yusuke Sennari, Kentaro Morita, Junichi Tsukada, Tamotsu Kanazawa, Yasuhiro Yoshida. Mitogen-activated protein kinases are involved in cucurbitacin D-induced antitumor effects on adult T-cell leukemia cells. Investigational new drugs. 2021 Feb;39(1):122-130

    PMID: 32914311

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