Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a heterogeneous hematological malignancy. To treat the disease successfully, new therapeutic strategies are urgently needed. One of these strategies can be the use of neurokinin-1 receptor (NK-1R) antagonists (e.g., aprepitant), because the substance P (SP)/NK-1R system is involved in cancer progression, including AML. AML patients show an up-regulation of the NK-1R mRNA expression; human AML cell lines show immunoreactivity for both SP and the NK-1R (it is overexpressed: the truncated isoform is more expressed than the full-length form) and, via this receptor, SP and NK-1R antagonists (aprepitant, in a concentration-dependent manner) respectively exert a proliferative action or an antileukemic effect (apoptotic mechanisms are triggered by promoting oxidative stress via mitochondrial Ca++
overload). Aprepitant inhibits the formation of AML cell colonies and, in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs, is more effective in inducing cytotoxic effects and AML cell growth blockade. NK-1R antagonists also exert an antinociceptive effect in myeloid leukemia-induced bone pain. The antitumor effect of aprepitant is diminished when the NF-κB pathway is overactivated and the damage induced by aprepitant in cancer cells is higher than that exerted in non-cancer cells. Thus, the SP/NK-1R system is involved in AML, and aprepitant is a promising antitumor strategy against this hematological malignancy. In this review, the involvement of this system in solid and non-solid tumors (in particular in AML) is updated and the use of aprepitant as an anti-leukemic strategy for the treatment of AML is also mentioned (a dose of aprepitant (>20 mg/kg/day) for a period of time according to the response to treatment is suggested). Aprepitant is currently used in clinical practice as an anti-nausea medication.
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