Arsenic trioxide (AS2O3) effectively induces clinical remission via apoptosis in relapsed acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). However, because this new anti-leukemic drug is also considered to be a poison, its possible adverse effects are a highly important issue related to its clinical use. We here investigated, both in vitro and in vivo, the effects of a combination of As2O3 and GM-CSF as a novel therapeutic approach for the treatment of APL. Treatment of both retinoic acid (RA)-sensitive and -resistant APL cell lines (NB4 and UF-1 cells, respectively), as well as primary APL cells with a combination of As2O3 and GM-CSF for 4 days resulted in inducing differentiation, but not apoptosis, to mature granulocytes. In addition, a combination of both agents induced degradation of the PML/RARα protein. GM-CSF was found to be associated with increased tyrosine phosphorylation of Jak2 kinase in both NB4 and UF-1 cells, and a specific inhibitor of Jak2, AG490, completely blocked the ability of GM-CSF to prevent apoptosis and induce differentiation of As2O3-treated UF-1 cells. In in vivo analysis, As2O3 induced differentiation of APL cells in a RA-resistant APL model of human GM-CSF-producing transgenic SCID mice that had a high level of human GM-CSF in their sera. In contrast, As2O3 alone diminished tumors in UF-1 cells transplanted into NOD/SCID mice via induction of apoptosis. In conclusion, a combination of As2O3 and GM-CSF appears to be a novel differentiation-inducing therapy in patients with APL, including relapsed or RA-resistant cases.
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