Molecular Medicine

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 19–28 | Cite as

Sorafenib-Induced Apoptosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Cells Is Associated with Downregulation of RAF and Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 (Mcl-1)

  • Jessie-F. Fecteau
  • Ila S. Bharati
  • Morgan O’Hayre
  • Tracy M. Handel
  • Thomas J. Kipps
  • Davorka Messmer
Research Article


We have previously shown that sorafenib, a multikinase inhibitor, exhibits cytotoxic effects on chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells. Because the cellular microenvironment can protect CLL cells from drug-induced apoptosis, it is important to evaluate the effect of novel drugs in this context. Here we characterized the in vitro cytotoxic effects of sorafenib on CLL cells and the underlying mechanism in the presence of marrow stromal cells (MSCs) and nurselike cells (NLCs). One single dose of 10 µmol/L or the repeated addition of 1 µmol/L sorafenib caused caspase-dependent apoptosis and reduced levels of phosphorylated B-RAF, C-RAF, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) and myeloid cell leukemia sequence 1 (Mcl-1) in CLL cells in the presence of the microenvironment. We show that the RAF/mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK)/ERK pathway can modulate Mcl-1 expression and contribute to CLL cell viability, thereby associating sorafenib cytotoxicity to its impact on RAF and Mcl-1. To evaluate if the other targets of sorafenib can affect CLL cell viability and contribute to sorafenib-mediated cytotoxicity, we tested the sensitivity of CLL cells to several kinase inhibitors specific for these targets. Our data show that RAF and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR) but not KIT, platelet-derived growth factor receptor (PDGFR) and FMS-like tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3) are critical for CLL cell viability. Taken together, our data suggest that sorafenib exerts its cytotoxic effect likely via inhibition of the VEGFR and RAF/MEK/ERK pathways, both of which can modulate Mcl-1 expression in CLL cells. Furthermore, sorafenib induced apoptosis of CLL cells from fludarabine refractory patients in the presence of NLCs or MSCs. Our results warrant further clinical exploration of sorafenib in CLL.



This work was supported by the Lymphoma Research Foundation (grant CLL-07-029 to TM Handel, TJ Kipps and D Messmer), Le Fond de la Recherche en Santé du Québec (to J-F Fecteau) and NIH R01AI37113 to TM Handel. The authors would like to thank Andrew Abriol Santos Ang, Vania Frias and Colette Yee for their excellent technical assistance and Bradley Messmer for critical reading of the manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessie-F. Fecteau
    • 1
  • Ila S. Bharati
    • 1
  • Morgan O’Hayre
    • 2
  • Tracy M. Handel
    • 2
  • Thomas J. Kipps
    • 1
    • 3
  • Davorka Messmer
    • 1
  1. 1.Moores UCSD Cancer CenterUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical SciencesUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.School of MedicineUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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