Curcumin (CUR) has a range of therapeutic benefits against cancers, but its poor solubility and low bioavailability limit its clinical use. Demethoxycurcumin (DMC) and diphenyl difluoroketone (EF-24) are natural and synthetic curcumin analogues, respectively, with better solubilities and higher anti-carcinogenic activities in various solid tumors than CUR. However, the efficacy of these analogues against non-solid tumors, particularly in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), has not been fully investigated. Herein, we observed that both DMC and EF-24 significantly decrease the proportion of viable AML cells including HL-60, U937, and MV4-11, harboring different NRAS and Fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3) statuses, and that EF-24 has a lower half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) than DMC. We found that EF-24 treatment induces several features of apoptosis, including an increase in the sub-G1 population, phosphatidylserine (PS) externalization, and significant activation of extrinsic proapoptotic signaling such as caspase-8 and-3 activation. Mechanistically, p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation is critical for EF-24-triggered apoptosis via activating protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) to attenuate extracellularregulated protein kinase (ERK) activities in HL-60 AML cells. In the clinic, patients with AML expressing high level of PP2A have the most favorable prognoses compared to various solid tumors. Taken together, our results indicate that EF-24 is a potential therapeutic agent for treating AML, especially for cancer types that lose the function of the PP2A tumor suppressor.
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