Interferon-gamma cooperates with retinoic acid and phorbol ester to induce differentiation and growth inhibition of human neuroblastoma cells

Int J Cancer. 2001 Oct 1;94(1):97-108. doi: 10.1002/ijc.1443.


The prognosis of patients with advanced stages of neuroblastoma with N-myc amplification remains poor despite escalated therapy, a situation that has called for alternative therapeutic approaches. Neuroblastoma cells, which represent immature peripheral neuronal cells, treated with certain physiologic and nonphysiologic agents such as retinoic acid (RA), phorbol esters and interferons (IFN) in vitro undergo cellular differentiation and stop to divide, a process that mimics normal neuronal development. Such "differentiation therapy" using RA after autologous bone marrow transplantation has recently given encouraging results in neuroblastoma patients with advanced disease. Considering approaches for improved differentiation therapy, we investigated possible synergistic effects of combining agents known to influence neuroblastoma growth and differentiation in vitro. Our results show that combined treatment with IFN-gamma and RA or the phorbol ester 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol acetate (TPA) had synergistic or enhancing effects on morphologic differentiation and neurite outgrowth in 5 of 5 neuroblastoma cell lines, 3 of which expressed very high levels of N-myc mRNA due to N-myc amplification. The combinations RA+IFN-gamma or TPA+IFN-gamma also enhanced induced growth inhibition in all 5 cell lines, in several cases resulting in complete growth arrest under conditions where cells stimulated with either agent alone continued to grow. The phenotypic effects of the combined RA+IFN-gamma or TPA+IFN-gamma treatments were in most, but not all, investigated cases accompanied by moderate reductions in N-myc expression, suggesting that the cooperative signals may counteract N-Myc activity at several levels. The cooperativity between IFN-gamma and other differentiation signals may be relevant for approaches to improve the therapy for high-risk neuroblastoma with N-myc-amplification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Drug Synergism
  • Genes, myc
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology*
  • Neuroblastoma / drug therapy*
  • Neuroblastoma / genetics
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate / pharmacology*
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Tretinoin
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Tetradecanoylphorbol Acetate