Interactions between the histone deacetylase inhibitor SAHA and the pharmacologic MEK1/2 inhibitor PD184352 were examined in Bcr/Abl+ human leukemia cells. Coadministration of minimally toxic concentrations of SAHA (or sodium butyrate) and PD184352 (or U0126) resulted in a synergistic increase in mitochondrial damage, caspase activation, and apoptosis in K562 and LAMA 84 cells. Similar interactions were observed in CD34(+) cells from two patients with CML and in imatinib mesylate-resistant K562 cells but not in normal human CD34(+) bone marrow cells. These events were associated with a marked increase in ROS generation, inactivation of ERK and Akt, downregulation of p21(CIP1), Bcr/Abl, and cyclin D(1), and activation of JNK. Of these events, ROS generation, ERK inactivation, and cytochrome c/AIF release were largely caspase-independent, whereas the other phenomena displayed varying degrees of caspase-dependence. Using pharmacologic and genetic approaches, generation of ROS, p21(CIP1) downregulation, and inactivation of Akt and MEK were found to play significant functional roles in SAHA/PD184352-mediated lethality, whereas JNK activation and Raf-1 downregulation were determined to represent secondary events. These findings indicate that interruption of the MEK/ERK pathway substantially lowers the threshold for HDAC inhibitor-mediated oxidative injury, mitochondrial dysfunction, and apoptosis, suggesting that this approach warrants further examination in Bcr/Abl+-related malignancies.Leukemia advance online publication, 14 July 2005; doi:10.1038/sj.leu.2403868.