The DNA demethylating agent decitabine activates the TRAIL pathway and induces apoptosis in acute myeloid leukemia

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Although epigenetic drugs have been approved for use in selected malignancies, there is significant need for a better understanding of their mechanism of action. Here, we study the action of a clinically approved DNA-methyltransferase inhibitor - decitabine (DAC) - in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells. At low doses, DAC treatment induced apoptosis of NB4 Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL) cells, which was associated with the activation of the extrinsic apoptotic pathway. Expression studies of the members of the Death Receptor family demonstrated that DAC induces the expression of TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL). Upregulation of TRAIL, upon DAC treatment, was associated with specific epigenetic modifications induced by DAC in the proximity of the TRAIL promoter, as demonstrated by DNA demethylation, increased DNaseI sensitivity and histone acetylation of a non-CpG island, CpG-rich region located 2. kb upstream to the transcription start site. Luciferase assay experiments showed that this region behave as a DNA methylation sensitive transcriptional regulatory element. The CpG regulatory element was also found methylated in samples derived from APL patients. These findings have been confirmed in the non-APL, AML Kasumi cell line, suggesting that this regulatory mechanism may be extended to other AMLs. Our study suggests that DNA methylation is a regulatory mechanism relevant for silencing of the TRAIL apoptotic pathway in leukemic cells, and further elucidates the mechanism by which epigenetic drugs mediate their anti-leukemic effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-120
Number of pages7
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Molecular Basis of Disease
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


  • Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Apoptosis
  • Decitabine
  • DNA methylation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Molecular Medicine


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