All-trans retinoic acid and hematopoietic growth factors regulating the growth and differentiation of blast progenitors in acute promyelocytic leukemia

Leuk Lymphoma. 1999 Apr;33(3-4):267-80. doi: 10.3109/10428199909058426.


Although acute leukemia is generally thought to be characterized by maturation arrest, it has been shown that differentiation occurs in blast cells of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) in vitro as well as in vivo, and that morphologically abnormal mature polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) often seen in patients with AML are possibly derived from spontaneously differentiating leukemic cells. Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is an unique example in which these features of AML are evident in an almost complete form; administration of all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) induces differentiation of neoplastic cells into mature neutrophils and successfully induce complete remission in most patients. However, PMNs appearing during ATRA treatment are morphologically abnormal, as indicated not only by the presence of Auer rods but also by neutrophil secondary-granule deficiency that is commonly seen in AML. Moreover, ATRA has heterogeneous effects on the growth of blast progenitors in APL in different patients, being inhibitory, stimulatory or ineffective, which might account in part for the leukemia relapse in patients treated with ATRA alone. Hematopoietic growth factors regulate the growth of blast progenitors in APL. Among them, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) is unique in that it preferentially stimulates clonal growth, but not self-renewal, in many APL cases, and synergistically enhances the differentiation-inducing effect of ATRA when used in combination. Many other compounds also exert such synergistic effects with ATRA, for which a variety of mechanisms have been suggested. It is crucial to precisely elucidate the functions of these molecules governing the growth/differentiation balance of AML blast progenitors and the mechanisms underlying their deregulated differentiation program in order to achieve effective differentiation therapy for patients with AML, not restricted to APL.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Division
  • Hematopoietic Cell Growth Factors / pharmacology
  • Hematopoietic Cell Growth Factors / physiology*
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / blood
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / pathology*
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / pathology
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology
  • Tretinoin / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Hematopoietic Cell Growth Factors
  • Tretinoin