Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common adult acute leukemia. Although frontline treatment of AML with cytotoxic chemotherapy achieves high remission rates, 75-80% of patients will either not respond or will relapse after initial therapy, and most patients will die of their disease within 2 years. Thus, there is a great need for more effective and less toxic therapies for AML. The goal of this proposal is to develop novel therapeutic strategies to treat AML based on the unique metabolic dependencies of these leukemias, particularly those dependencies that arise after treatment with inhibitors targeting activated tyrosine kinases (TK) like FLT3. We have shown that inhibition of FLT3 in AML cells results in dramatic metabolic changes and novel mitochondrial dependencies. MCJ is a mitochondrial protein that interacts with Complex I of the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) and attenuates Complex I activity. MCJ expression is lost in a number of cancers and we now show that MCJ expression is lost in multiple FLT3 activated AML cell lines. Our collaborators have generated MCJ agonistic peptides that can restore MCJ activity in cancer cells lacking MCJ, improving therapeutic responses. Importantly, we demonstrate that peptide-mediated reactivation of MCJ results in synergistic elimination of FLT3-dependent AML cell line when combined with FLT3 TK inhibitors (TKI) in vitro. We hypothesize that restoration of MCJ activity in a subset of AMLs using MCJ agonistic peptides will disrupt ETC supercomplexes, promote loss of mitochondrial transmembrane potential (?m), reduce respiration, increase production of mitochondrial ROS, and promote apoptosis. Our goal is to demonstrate that MCJ agonistic peptides synergize with FLT3 inhibitors in the treatment of AML, with the goal of developing therapies to improve outcomes for AML patients. In this application we will examine: 1) the mechanism underlying MCJ agonist- induced apoptosis in AML cells, using AML cell lines and primary cells in vitro, and 2) the efficacy of MCJ agonists in the treatment of AML in vivo in combination with FLT3 inhibition using mouse models and primary human AML cells.

Public Health Relevance

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common acute leukemia in adults and comprises 20% of childhood leukemias. While there has recently been considerable progress in treating other types of leukemia, progress in improving therapy for AML has been slow and survival rates for most patients remain quite low. Thus, there is a great need for more effective and less toxic therapies for AML. Our recent studies have led us to identify a new molecule called MCJ with low expression in some AMLs. Our collaborators have developed novel MCJ agonists that can restore function in cancer cells lacking MCJ. The goal of this proposal is to investigate whether MCJ agonists can be used to treat AML cells in vitro and in vivo. MCJ agonists could emerge as novel therapies that can synergize with current targeted AML therapies and prevent relapses.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZCA1)
Program Officer
O'Hayre, Morgan
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Colorado Denver
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code