Vitamin K2 induces autophagy and apoptosis simultaneously in leukemia cells

Autophagy. 2008 Jul;4(5):629-40. doi: 10.4161/auto.5941. Epub 2008 Mar 20.


Vitamin K2 (menaquinone-4: VK2) is a potent inducer for apoptosis in leukemia cells in vitro. HL-60bcl-2 cells, which are derived from a stable transfectant clone of the human bcl-2 gene into the HL-60 leukemia cell line, show 5-fold greater expression of the Bcl-2 protein compared with HL-60neo cells, a control clone transfected with vector alone. VK2 induces apoptosis in HL-60neo cells, whereas HL-60bcl-2 cells are resistant to apoptosis induction by VK2 but show inhibition of cell growth along with an increase of cytoplasmic vacuoles during exposure to VK2. Electron microscopy revealed formation of autophagosomes and autolysosomes in HL-60bcl-2 cells after exposure to VK2. An increase of acid vesicular organelles (AVOs) detected by acridine orange staining for lysosomes as well as conversion of LC3B-I into LC3B-II by immunoblotting and an increased punctuated pattern of cytoplasmic LC3B by fluorescent immunostaining all supported induction of enhanced autophagy in response to VK2 in HL-60bcl-2 cells. However, during shorter exposure to VK2, the formation of autophagosomes was also prominent in HL-60neo cells although nuclear chromatin condensations and nuclear fragments were also observed at the same time. These findings indicated the mixed morphologic features of apoptosis and autophagy. Inhibition of autophagy by either addition of 3-methyladenine, siRNA for Atg7, or Tet-off Atg5 system all resulted in attenuation of VK2-incuded cell death, indicating autophagy-mediated cell death in response to VK2. These data demonstrate that autophagy and apoptosis can be simultaneously induced by VK2. However, autophagy becomes prominent when the cells are protected from rapid apoptotic death by a high expression level of Bcl-2.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Autophagy / physiology
  • HL-60 Cells
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia / pathology*
  • Vitamin K 2 / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Vitamin K 2