PloS one

mTOR inhibition by everolimus in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia induces caspase-independent cell death.

PMID 25014496


Increasingly, anti-cancer medications are being reported to induce cell death mechanisms other than apoptosis. Activating alternate death mechanisms introduces the potential to kill cells that have defects in their apoptotic machinery, as is commonly observed in cancer cells, including in hematological malignancies. We, and others, have previously reported that the mTOR inhibitor everolimus has pre-clinical efficacy and induces caspase-independent cell death in acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells. Furthermore, everolimus is currently in clinical trial for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Here we characterize the death mechanism activated by everolimus in acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells. We find that cell death is caspase-independent and lacks the morphology associated with apoptosis. Although mitochondrial depolarization is an early event, permeabilization of the outer mitochondrial membrane only occurs after cell death has occurred. While morphological and biochemical evidence shows that autophagy is clearly present it is not responsible for the observed cell death. There are a number of features consistent with paraptosis including morphology, caspase-independence, and the requirement for new protein synthesis. However in contrast to some reports of paraptosis, the activation of JNK signaling was not required for everolimus-induced cell death. Overall in acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells everolimus induces a cell death that resembles paraptosis.