Inhibition of Autophagy Does Not Re-Sensitize Acute Myeloid Leukemia Cells Resistant to Cytarabine

Nienke Visser, Harm Jan Lourens, Gerwin Huls, Edwin Bremer, Valerie R. Wiersma*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Elevated activation of the autophagy pathway is currently thought to be one of the survival mechanisms allowing therapy-resistant cancer cells to escape elimination, including for cytarabine (AraC)-resistant acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients. Consequently, the use of autophagy inhibitors such as chloroquine (CQ) is being explored for the re-sensitization of AraC-resistant cells. In our study, no difference in the activity of the autophagy pathway was detected when comparing AraC-Res AML cell lines to parental AraC-sensitive AML cell lines. Furthermore, treatment with autophagy inhibitors CQ, 3-Methyladenine (3-MA), and bafilomycin A1 (BafA1) did not re-sensitize AraC-Res AML cell lines to AraC treatment. However, in parental AraC-sensitive AML cells, treatment with AraC did activate autophagy and, correspondingly, combination of AraC with autophagy inhibitors strongly reduced cell viability. Notably, the combination of these drugs also yielded the highest level of cell death in a panel of patient-derived AML samples even though not being additive. Furthermore, there was no difference in the cytotoxic effect of autophagy inhibition during AraC treatment in matched de novo and relapse samples with differential sensitivity to AraC. Thus, inhibition of autophagy may improve AraC efficacy in AML patients, but does not seem warranted for the treatment of AML patients that have relapsed with AraC-resistant disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2337
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 26-Feb-2021


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic/pharmacology
  • Autophagy/drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chloroquine/pharmacology
  • Cytarabine/pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm/drug effects
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute/drug therapy
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured

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