Homoharringtonine mediates myeloid cell apoptosis via upregulation of pro-apoptotic bax and inducing caspase-3-mediated cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP)

Am J Hematol. 2004 Jul;76(3):199-204. doi: 10.1002/ajh.20100.


Homoharringtonine (HHT) is a plant alkaloid with antileukemia activity that is currently being used for treatment of acute, chronic leukemias and MDS. In this study, we show that HHT can induce apoptosis in a variety of human myeloid leukemia cell lines (U937, HL-60, HEL, THP, and K562). U937 and HL60 cells undergo rapid apoptosis on treatment with HHT, as indicated by increased annexin V binding capacity, caspase-3 activation, and cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP). In addition, the expression of bax is upregulated during HHT-induced cell death, whereas the expression of bcl-2 is only slightly decreased. Importantly, treatment of primary leukemic cells, obtained from acute myeloid leukemia patients, resulted in rapid apoptosis. Thus, our data provide the mechanism of HHT and justify the use of HHT in the treatment of human myeloid leukemia.

MeSH terms

  • Annexin A5 / metabolism
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Harringtonines / pharmacology*
  • Homoharringtonine
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid / pathology*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Annexin A5
  • BAX protein, human
  • Harringtonines
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Homoharringtonine
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases