Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Preferential eradication of acute myelogenous leukemia stem cells by fenretinide.

PMID 23513221


Leukemia stem cells (LSCs) play important roles in leukemia initiation, progression, and relapse, and thus represent a critical target for therapeutic intervention. However, relatively few agents have been shown to target LSCs, slowing progress in the treatment of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Based on in vitro and in vivo evidence, we report here that fenretinide, a well-tolerated vitamin A derivative, is capable of eradicating LSCs but not normal hematopoietic progenitor/stem cells at physiologically achievable concentrations. Fenretinide exerted a selective cytotoxic effect on primary AML CD34(+) cells, especially the LSC-enriched CD34(+)CD38(-) subpopulation, whereas no significant effect was observed on normal counterparts. Methylcellulose colony formation assays further showed that fenretinide significantly suppressed the formation of colonies derived from AML CD34(+) cells but not those from normal CD34(+) cells. Moreover, fenretinide significantly reduced the in vivo engraftment of AML stem cells but not normal hematopoietic stem cells in a nonobese diabetic/SCID mouse xenotransplantation model. Mechanistic studies revealed that fenretinide-induced cell death was linked to a series of characteristic events, including the rapid generation of reactive oxygen species, induction of genes associated with stress responses and apoptosis, and repression of genes involved in NF-κB and Wnt signaling. Further bioinformatic analysis revealed that the fenretinide-down-regulated genes were significantly correlated with the existing poor-prognosis signatures in AML patients. Based on these findings, we propose that fenretinide is a potent agent that selectively targets LSCs, and may be of value in the treatment of AML.

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Retinoic acid p-hydroxyanilide, ≥95%