Differential enhancement of leukaemia cell differentiation without elevation of intracellular calcium by plant-derived sesquiterpene lactone compounds

S. H. Kim, M. Danilenko, Tae Sung Kim

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Background and purpose: All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) induces complete remission in a majority of acute promyelocytic leukaemia patients, but resistance of leukaemic cells to ATRA and its toxicity, such as hypercalcaemia, lead to a limitation of treatment. Therefore, combination therapies with differentiation-enhancing agents at non-toxic concentrations of ATRA may overcome its side effects. Here, we investigated the effect of plant-derived sesquiterpene lactone compounds and their underlying mechanisms in ATRA-induced differentiation of human leukaemia HL-60 cells. Experimental approach: HL-60 cells were treated with four sesquiterpene lactones (helenalin, costunolide, parthenolide and sclareolide) and cell differentiation was determined by NBT reduction, Giemsa and cytofluorometric analyses. Signalling pathways were assessed by western blotting, gel-shift assay and kinase activity determinations and intracellular calcium levels were determined using a calcium-specific fluorescent probe. Key results: Helenalin, costunolide and parthenolide, but not sclareolide, increased ATRA-induced HL-60 cell differentiation into a granulocytic lineage. Signalling kinases PKC and ERK were involved in the ATRA-induced differentiation enhanced by all of the effective sesquiterpene lactones, but JNK and PI3-K were involved in the ATRA-induced differentiation enhanced by costunolide and parthenolide. Enhancement of cell differentiation closely correlated with inhibition of NF-κB DNA-binding activity by all three effective compounds. Importantly, enhancement of differentiation induced by 50 nM ATRA by the sesquiterpene lactones was not accompanied by elevation of basal intracellular calcium concentrations. Conclusions and implications: These results indicate that plant-derived sesquiterpene lactones may enhance ATRA-mediated cell differentiation through distinct pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)814-825
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Pharmacology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Nov 1



  • All-trans retinoic acid
  • Differentiation
  • Intracellular calcium
  • Leukaemia
  • NF-κB
  • Sesquiterpene lactones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology

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