Advanced-stage cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) is usually a fatal malignancy despite optimal use of currently available treatments. In this preclinical study of novel CTCL therapy, we performed in vitro and ex vivo experiments to determine the efficacy of combination treatment with a panel of BET bromodomain inhibitors (BETi) (JQ1, OTX015, CPI-0610, I-BET762) and HDAC inhibitors (HDACi) (SAHA/Vorinostat, Romidepsin). BETi/HDACi combinations were synergistic (combination index <1) against cell viability and induced G0/G1 cell cycle arrest. Apoptosis was uniformly enhanced. From a mechanistic standpoint, proliferative drivers c-Myc, Cyclin D1, NFkB, and IL-15Ra were reduced. Inhibitory CDKN1A was increased. CDKN1B, IL-7R, IL-17Ra, STAT3, and STAT5 alterations varied. There were significant increases in extrinsic apoptotic pathway death receptors and ligands (FasL, DR4, DR5, TRAIL, and TNFR1). At clinically tolerable levels of single agents, Romidepsin (1 nM)?+?OTX015 (125 nM) induced the greatest apoptosis (60%_80%) at 96?hours. Ex vivo studies of leukemic CTCL cells obtained from patients with Sezary syndrome also showed higher levels of apoptosis (about 60%-90%) in response to combination treatments relative to single agents. In contrast, combination treatment of normal CD4+ T cells induced only minimal apoptosis (<10%). Our findings show that the mechanism of action of BETi/HDACi therapy in CTCL involves induction of both cell cycle arrest and apoptosis with reduced proliferative drivers and enhanced expression of apoptotic extrinsic pathway death receptors and ligands. Relative to single agents, the superior anti-CTCL effects of BETi/HDACi combinations in vitro and ex vivo provide a rationale for clinical trials exploring their efficacy as therapy for CTCL.
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