Anthracyclines, topoisomerase II enzyme poisons that cause DNA damage, are the mainstay of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment. However, acquired resistance to anthracyclines leads to relapse, which currently lacks effective treatment and is the cause of poor survival in individuals with AML. Therefore, the identification of the mechanisms underlying anthracycline resistance remains an unmet clinical need. Here, using patient-derived primary cultures and clinically relevant cellular models that recapitulate acquired anthracycline resistance in AML, we have found that GCN5 (also known as KAT2A) mediates transcriptional upregulation of DNA-dependent protein kinase catalytic subunit (DNA-PKcs) in AML relapse, independently of the DNA-damage response. We demonstrate that anthracyclines fail to induce DNA damage in resistant cells, owing to the loss of expression of their target enzyme, TOP2B; this was caused by DNA-PKcs directly binding to its promoter upstream region as a transcriptional repressor. Importantly, DNA-PKcs kinase activity inhibition re-sensitized AML relapse primary cultures and cells resistant to mitoxantrone, and abrogated their tumorigenic potential in a xenograft mouse model. Taken together, our findings identify a GCN5–DNA-PKcs–TOP2B transcriptional regulatory axis as the mechanism underlying anthracycline resistance, and demonstrate the therapeutic potential of DNA-PKcs inhibition to re-sensitize resistant AML relapse cells to anthracycline.

You do not currently have access to this content.