Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Experimental Therapeutics

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Joya Chandra

Committee Member

Peng Huang

Committee Member

Lovell A. Jones

Committee Member

Gabriel Lopez-Berestein

Committee Member

Zahid H. Siddik


Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) are anti-cancer drugs that primarily act upon acetylation of histones, however they also increase levels of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS). We hypothesized that agents that cause oxidative stress might enhance the efficacy of HDACi. To test this hypothesis, we treated acute lymphocytic leukemia cells (ALL) with HDACi and adaphostin (ROS generating agent). The combination of two different HDACi (vorinostat or entinostat) with adaphostin synergistically induced apoptosis in ALL. This synergistic effect was blocked when cells were pre-treated with the caspase-9 inhibitor, LEHD. In addition, we showed that loss of the mitochondrial membrane potential is the earliest event observed starting at 12 h. Following this event, we observed increased levels of superoxide at 16 h, and ultimately caspase-3 activation. Pre-treatment with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) blocked ROS generation and reversed the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential for both combinations. Interestingly, DNA fragmentation and caspase-3 activity was only blocked by NAC in cells treated with vorinostat-adaphostin; but not with entinostat-adaphostin. These results suggest that different redox mechanisms are involved in the induction of ROS-mediated apoptosis. To further understand these events, we studied the role of the antioxidants glutathione (GSH) and thioredoxin (Trx). We found that the combination of entinostat-adaphostin induced acetylation of the antioxidant thioredoxin (Trx) and decreased intracellular levels of GSH. However, no effect on Trx activity was observed in either combination. In addition, pre-treatment with GSH ethyl ester, a soluble form of GSH, did not block DNA fragmentation. Together these results suggested that GSH and Trx are not major players in the induction of oxidative stress. Array data examining the expression of genes involved in oxidative stress demonstrated a differential regulation between cells treated with vorinostat-adaphostin and entinostat-adaphostin. Some of the genes differentially expressed between the combinations include aldehyde oxidase 1, glutathione peroxidase-5, -6, peroxiredoxin 6 and myeloperoxidase. Taken together, these experimental results indicate that the synergistic activity of two different HDACi with adaphostin is mediated by distinct redox mechanisms in ALL cells. Understanding the mechanism involved in these combinations will advance scientific knowledge of how the action of HDACi could be augmented in leukemia models. Moreover, this information could be used for the development of effective clinical trials combining HDACi with other anticancer agents.


HDACi, Adaphostin, Oxidative Stress, Apoptosis, Synergy, Leukemia