Induction of apoptosis by flavopiridol in human neuroblastoma cells is enhanced under hypoxia and associated with N-myc proto-oncogene down-regulation

Maura Puppo, Sandra Pastorino, Giovanni Melillo, Annalisa Pezzolo, Luigi Varesio, Maria Carla Bosco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Neuroblastoma is the most common extracramial solid tumor of children that arises from the sympathetic nervous system. Survival rates for neuroblastoma patients is low despite intensive therapeutic intervention, and the identification of new effective drugs remains a primary goal. The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, flavopiridol, has demonstrated growth-inhibitory and cytotoxic activity against various tumor types. Our aim was to investigate flavopiridol effects on advanced-stage, N-myc proto-oncogene (MYCN)-amplified human neuroblastomas and the modulation of its activity by hypoxia, a critical determinant of tumor progression and a major challenge of therapy. Experimental Design: Cell viability was monitored by 3-(4,5 dimethyl-2 thiazolyl)-2,5 diphenyl-2H tetrazolium bromide (MTT) and trypan blue dye exclusion assays; DNA synthesis was assessed with the bromodeoxyuridine pulse-labeling technique; apoptosis was studied by Giemsa staining, DNA fragmentation, terminal deoxynucleotidyl-transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling reaction, flow cytometric determination of hypodiploid DNA content, and evaluation of caspase activity and cytochrome c (CytC) release; MYCN expression was determined by Northern and Western blotting. Results: Flavopiridol caused dose- and time-dependent decreases in neuroblastoma viability by inducing apoptosis, as confirmed by morphologic and biochemical criteria. Cell death was preceded by DNA synthesis inhibition and G1-G2 arrest, reversed by the pancaspase inhibitor, zVAD-fmk, and associated with caspase-3 and -2 activation and CytC increase. Moreover, flavopiridol strongly down-regulated MYCN mRNA and protein expression. Exposure to hypoxia enhanced both the extent of apoptosis and flavopiridol effects on CytC, caspase 3, and MYCN. Conclusions: These results indicate that flavopiridol has growth-inhibitory and apoptotic activity against advanced-stage neuroblastomas in vitro and is worthy of further investigation for the treatment of this disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8704-8719
Number of pages16
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 15 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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