Cucurbitacin E and I target the JAK/STAT pathway and induce apoptosis in Sézary cells

Cutaneous T-cell lymphomas and leukemias (CTCLs) are a heterogeneous group of extranodal non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. These are characterized by an accumulation of malignant CD4+ T-lymphocytes in the skin, lymph nodes, and peripheral blood. Novel treatment options are needed for patients who progress to advanced stage disease. Cucurbitacin I has previously shown promising results in Sézary syndrome (Sz). A plethora of cucurbitacins, however, have not yet been tested in CTCL. Herein, we investigated the effect of cucurbitacin E and I in two CTCL cell lines. We show that both cucurbitacins decrease viability and cause apoptosis in these cell lines, although HuT-78 was more affected than SeAx (IC50 of 17.38 versus 22.01 μM for cucurbitacin E and 13.36 versus 24.47 μM for cucurbitacin I). Moreover, both cucurbitacins decrease viability of primary cells of a Sz patient (56.46% for cucurbitacin E and 59.07% for cucurbitacin I). Furthermore, while JAK2 inhibition leads to decreased viability in SeAx cells (IC50 of 9.98 and 29.15 μM for AZD1480 and ruxolitinib respectively), both JAK1 and JAK3 do not. This suggests that JAK2 has a preferential role in promoting survival. Western blotting in SeAx cells revealed that both cucurbitacins inhibit STAT3 activation (P < 0.0001), while only cucurbitacin I inhibits STAT5 activation (P = 0.05). This suggests that STAT3 plays a preferential role in the mechanism of action of these cucurbitacins. Nevertheless, a role of STAT5 and JAK2 cannot be excluded and should be explored further. This knowledge could contribute to the development of effective therapies for CTCL and other malignancies involving dysfunction of the JAK/STAT pathway.

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