Despite improved clinical outcomes of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a certain proportion of patients still develop a primary refractory disease. To overcome these lymphomas that are intractable to existing treatment strategies, the tumor microenvironment has been identified as a potential therapeutic target. Here we describe our search for effective drugs for primary refractory lymphoma cells with MYC rearrangement. Through the drug screening of 3,440 known compounds, we identified a unique compound, emetine. This compound was effective against lymphoma cells with MYC rearrangement from two different patients that were co-cultured with cancer associated fibroblasts. Emetine induced the death of these cells with a half maximal inhibitory concentration of 312 nM and 506 nM, respectively. Subsequent analyses of the mechanism of action of emetine showed that the drug induced apoptosis of tumor cells via alteration of glucose metabolism through inhibition of hypoxia inducible factor-1α. Moreover, emetine inhibited the potential of cancer associated fibroblasts to support tumor cell viability in vitro and demonstrated significant inhibition of tumor growth in in vivo analyses. Emetine also induced cell death in other primary refractory lymphoma cells with MYC rearrangement. Our combined data indicate that emetine is a potential promising drug for the treatment of intractable lymphomas, which targets both the tumor and its microenvironment.
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