Individuals with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) harboring an internal tandem duplication (ITD) in the gene encoding Fms-related tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3) who relapse after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (allo-HCT) have a 1-year survival rate below 20%. We observed that sorafenib, a multitargeted tyrosine kinase inhibitor, increased IL-15 production by FLT3-ITD(+) leukemia cells. This synergized with the allogeneic CD8(+) T cell response, leading to long-term survival in six mouse models of FLT3-ITD(+) AML. Sorafenib-related IL-15 production caused an increase in CD8(+)CD107a(+)IFN-gamma(+) T cells with features of longevity (high levels of Bcl-2 and reduced PD-1 levels), which eradicated leukemia in secondary recipients. Mechanistically, sorafenib reduced expression of the transcription factor ATF4, thereby blocking negative regulation of interferon regulatory factor 7 (IRF7) activation, which enhanced IL-15 transcription. Both IRF7 knockdown and ATF4 overexpression in leukemia cells antagonized sorafenib-induced IL-15 production in vitro. Human FLT3-ITD(+) AML cells obtained from sorafenib responders following sorafenib therapy showed increased levels of IL-15, phosphorylated IRF7, and a transcriptionally active IRF7 chromatin state. The mitochondrial spare respiratory capacity and glycolytic capacity of CD8(+) T cells increased upon sorafenib treatment in sorafenib responders but not in nonresponders. Our findings indicate that the synergism of T cells and sorafenib is mediated via reduced ATF4 expression, causing activation of the IRF7-IL-15 axis in leukemia cells and thereby leading to metabolic reprogramming of leukemia-reactive T cells in humans. Therefore, sorafenib treatment has the potential to contribute to an immune-mediated cure of FLT3-ITD-mutant AML relapse, an otherwise fatal complication after allo-HCT.
Type of Publication:
Journal article published