Abstract Background There are some limitations of standard chemotherapy for acute leukemia. Vincristine and doxorubicin are commonly used for acute leukemia, but they may induce serious side effects such as cardiomyopathy and neurotoxicity. Furthermore, chemotherapy resistance occurs more and more frequently. Therefore, effective treatment strategies are needed. Histone deacetylase 6 inhibition is considered as a potential therapeutic strategy for acute leukemia, since it is observed that HDAC6 is overexpressed in acute leukemia and regulates tumor survival. Combination therapy for cancer is used to minimize adverse drug effects, reduce drug dosage, enhance efficacy, and prevent drug resistance. In order to improve efficacy of chemotherapy agents of acute leukemia, this study will investigate the effects of combination MPT0G211, a novel histone deacetylase 6 inhibitor, with doxorubicin or vincristine on human acute leukemia cells. Results MPT0G211 combined with doxorubicin induces DNA damage response on human acute myeloid leukemia cells. MPT0G211 can additionally increase Ku70 acetylation and release BAX to mitochondria. Ectopic expression of HDAC6 successively reversed the apoptosis triggered by the combined treatment. Moreover, co-treatment of MPT0G211 and vincristine may alter microtubule dynamics, triggering acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells arrest in mitotic phase followed by induction of the apoptotic pathway. Finally, MPT0G211 plus doxorubicin or vincristine can significantly improve the tumor growth delay in a tumor xenograft model. Conclusions Collectively, our data highlighted that MPT0G211 in combination with chemotherapy drugs has significant anticancer activity, suggesting a novel strategy for the treatment of acute leukemia.