CXCR4 is a key player in the retention and survival of human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) blasts in the bone marrow (BM) microenvironment. We studied the effects of the CXCR4 antagonist BL-8040 on the survival of AML blasts, and investigated the molecular mechanisms by which CXCR4 signaling inhibition leads to leukemic cell death. Treatment with BL-8040 induced the robust mobilization of AML blasts from the BM. In addition, AML cells exposed to BL-8040 underwent differentiation. Furthermore, BL-8040 induced the apoptosis of AML cells in vitro and in vivo. This apoptosis was mediated by the upregulation of miR-15a/miR-16-1, resulting in downregulation of the target genes BCL-2, MCL-1 and cyclin-D1. Overexpression of miR-15a/miR-16-1 directly induced leukemic cell death. BL-8040-induced apoptosis was also mediated by the inhibition of survival signals via the AKT/ERK pathways. Importantly, treatment with a BCL-2 inhibitor induced apoptosis and act together with BL-8040 to enhance cell death. BL-8040 also synergized with FLT3 inhibitors to induce AML cell death. Importantly, this combined treatment prolonged the survival of tumor-bearing mice and reduced minimal residual disease in vivo. Our results provide a rationale to test combination therapies employing BL-8040 and BCL-2 or FLT3 inhibitors to achieve increased efficacy of these agents.
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