Disulfiram overcomes bortezomib and cytarabine resistance in Down-syndrome-associated acute myeloid leukemia cells


Children with Down syndrome (DS) have increased risk for developing AML (DS-AMKL), and they usually experience severe therapy-related toxicities compared to non DS-AMKL. Refractory/relapsed disease has very poor outcome, and patients would benefit from novel, less toxic, therapeutic strategies that overcome resistance. Relapse/resistance are linked to cancer stem cells with high aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity. The purpose of the present work was to study less toxic alternative therapeutic agents for relapsed/refractory DS-AMKL.


Fourteen AML cell lines including the DS-AMKL CMY and CMK from relapsed/refractory AML were used. Cytarabine (Ara-C), bortezomib (BTZ), disulfiram/copper (DSF/Cu2+) were evaluated for cytotoxicity, depletion of ALDH-positive cells, and resistance. BTZ-resistant CMY and CMK variants were generated by continuous BTZ treatment. Cell viability was assessed using CellTiter-Glo®, ALDH activity by ALDELUORTM, and proteasome inhibition by western blot of ubiquitinated proteins and the Proteasome-Glo™ Chymotrypsin-Like (CT-like) assay, apoptosis by Annexin V Fluos/Propidium iodide staining, and mutations were detected using PCR, cloning and sequencing.


Ara-C-resistant AML cell lines were sensitive to BTZ and DSF/Cu2+. The Ara-C-resistant DS-AMKL CMY cells had a high percentage of ALDHbright "stem-like" populations that may underlie Ara-C resistance. One percent of these cells were still resistant to BTZ but sensitive to DSF/Cu2+. To understand the mechanism of BTZ resistance, BTZ resistant (CMY-BR) and (CMK-BR) were generated. A novel mutation PSMB5 Q62P underlied BTZ resistance, and was associated with an overexpression of the β5 proteasome subunit. BTZ-resistance conferred increased resistance to Ara-C due to G1 arrest in the CMY-BR cells, which protected the cells from S-phase damage by Ara-C. CMY-BR and CMK-BR cells were cross-resistant to CFZ and MG-132 but sensitive to DSF/Cu2+. In this setting, DSF/Cu2+ induced apoptosis and proteasome inhibition independent of CT-like activity inhibition.


We provide evidence that DSF/Cu2+ overcomes Ara-C and BTZ resistance in cell lines from DS-AMKL patients. A novel mutation underlying BTZ resistance was detected that may identify BTZ-resistant patients, who may not benefit from treatment with CFZ or Ara-C, but may be responsive to DSF/Cu2+. Our findings support the clinical development of DSF/Cu2+ as a less toxic efficacious treatment approach in patients with relapsed/refractory DS-AMKL.

Related Products

Cat.No. Product Name Information
S1648 Cytarabine (U-19920A) Cytarabine (U-19920A, Cytarabin, Ara-C, Arabinofuranosyl Cytidine, Cytosine β-D-arabinofuranoside, Cytosine arabinoside, NSC 63878, NSC 287459) is an antimetabolic agent and DNA synthesis inhibitor with IC50 of 16 nM in wild-type CCRF-CEM cells. Cytarabine induces autophagy and apoptosis.

Related Targets

DNA/RNA Synthesis