Treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) in combination with low doses of arsenic trioxide or chemotherapy leads to exceptionally high cure rates (>90%). ATRA forces APL cells into differentiation and cell death. Unfortunately, ATRA-based therapy has not been effective among any other acute myeloid leukemia (AML) subtype, and long-term survival rates remain unacceptably low; only 30% of AML patients survive 5 years after diagnosis. Here, we identified insulin-like growth factor binding protein 7 (IGFBP7) as part of ATRA-induced responses in APL cells. Most importantly, we observed that addition of recombinant human IGFBP7 (rhIGFBP7) increased ATRA-driven responses in a subset of non-APL AML samples: those with high RARA expression. In nonpromyelocytic AML, rhIGFBP7 treatment induced a transcriptional program that sensitized AML cells for ATRA-induced differentiation, cell death, and inhibition of leukemic stem/progenitor cell survival. Furthermore, the engraftment of primary AML in mice was significantly reduced following treatment with the combination of rhIGFBP7 and ATRA. Mechanistically, we showed that the synergism of ATRA and rhIGFBP7 is due, at least in part, to reduction of the transcription factor GFI1. Together, these results suggest a potential clinical utility of IGFBP7 and ATRA combination treatment to eliminate primary AML (leukemic stem/progenitor) cells and reduce relapse in AML patients.
© 2020 by The American Society of Hematology.