In vitro and in vivo effects of 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (Decitabine) on clonogenic cells from acute myeloid leukemia patients

V. Gattei, D. Aldinucci, M. C. Petti, A. Da Ponte, V. Zagonel, A. Pinto

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5-Aza-2'-deoxycytidine (Decitabine) is an analog of deoxycytidine now entering clinical trials in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) owing to a defined antileukemic activity mediated at least in part by DNA hypomethylation, altered gene expression, and induction of cell differentiation. In the present study, we examined the relationship between the in vitro sensitivity to Decitabine of blast progenitors and the clinical outcome, in nine AML patients treated in vivo with Decitabine within a phase II trial carried out at two different institutions. Leukemic blast progenitors in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) undergo terminal divisions giving rise to colonies in methylcellulose. The self-renewal capacity of blast progenitors is conversely reflected by a secondary methylcellulose assay after exponential growth of clonogenic cells in suspension cultures. Three out of four patients, in which clonogenic cells in methylcellulose were strongly suppressed by Decitabine and clonogenic growth of blasts cultured in suspension was only slightly affected, failed on Decitabine treatment in vivo. Two subjects, whose blast progenitors in suspension culture were significantly inhibited by Decitabine, obtained a positive hematological response (complete or partial remission, CR or PR) and an additional patient showing a similar in vitro pattern died in induction with an hypoplastic marrow without morphological evidence of persistent leukemia. Interestingly two patients displaying an unfavourable in vitro pattern (i.e. a minor suppression of self-renewal mitoses as evinced from suspension cultures) achieved a hematological response (CR and PR) upon in vivo therapy with Decilabine. The in vitro response to Decitabine of clonogenic progenitors from both these patients shifted to a favourable pattern (i.e. major suppression of self-renewal versus terminal mitoses) following manipulation of culture conditions by the addition or removal of exogenous growth factors. In addition, in a further patient refractory to treatment with Decitabine in vivo, similar alterations of the culture conditions were unable to modify the unfavourable pattern of response to the drug in vitro. Our results indicate that the sensitivity of blast progenitors in suspension cultures strongly correlates with the remission outcome of the patients. From our data, it also appears that alterations of culture microenviroment are able to modify the response of AML blasts to Decitabine, unveiling the 'hidden' sensitivity of leukemic progenitors to the drug in cases characterized by a discrepancy between in vivo and in vitro results, i.e. apparent in vitro resistance and favourable clinical outcome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-48
Number of pages7
Issue numberSUPPL. MONOGR. 1
Publication statusPublished - 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Hematology


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