Opposing effects of arsenic trioxide on hepatocellular carcinomas in mice

Cancer Sci. 2006 Jul;97(7):675-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2006.00230.x.


Arsenic trioxide (As2O3) is a potent antitumor agent used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) and, more recently, solid tumors. However, the dose of As2O3 required to suppress human xenographs in mice is markedly higher than that used to treat APL in humans. Paradoxically, low doses of As2O3 stimulate angiogenesis, which might be expected to promote tumor growth. Clearly, appropriate dosages of As2O3 are required to treat human patients to avoid toxicity and undesirable side effects. In the present study, we investigated As2O3 with respect to its toxicity and effects on tumor growth, angiogenesis and cell apoptosis using H22 hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells in a mouse model of HCC. As2O3 inhibited tumor growth and angiogenesis, and enhanced tumor cell apoptosis at doses greater than 1 mg/kg, but mice lost weight and failed to thrive at doses of 4 mg/kg and greater. In contrast, low doses (<1 mg/kg) of As2O3 promoted tumor growth, upregulated the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor and tumor angiogenesis, and had no effect on tumor cell apoptosis. In vitro studies demonstrated that As2O3 inhibited the proliferation of H22 tumor cells and bovine aortic endothelial cells, and induced their apoptosis in a dose- and time-dependent fashion, suggesting that the mechanism of As2O3-mediated inhibition of tumor growth is due to direct effects of the drug on both tumor cells and endothelia. In summary, different doses of As2O3 have opposing effects on tumor growth and angiogenesis. The results demonstrate that As2O3 has a narrow window of therapeutic opportunity with respect to dosage, and that low doses of the drug as used in metronomic therapy should be used with extreme caution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity
  • Aorta / cytology
  • Aorta / drug effects
  • Apoptosis
  • Arsenic Trioxide
  • Arsenicals / administration & dosage*
  • Arsenicals / therapeutic use
  • Cattle
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / blood supply
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / drug therapy*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / metabolism
  • Oxides / administration & dosage*
  • Oxides / therapeutic use
  • Oxides / toxicity
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Arsenicals
  • Oxides
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Arsenic Trioxide