Analysis of the role of thrombomodulin in all-trans retinoic acid treatment of coagulation disorders in cancer patients

Theor Biol Med Model. 2019 Feb 14;16(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s12976-019-0099-z.


Background: Clinical studies have shown that all-trans retinoic acid (RA), which is often used in treatment of cancer patients, improves hemostatic parameters and bleeding complications such as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). However, the mechanisms underlying this improvement have yet to be elucidated. In vitro studies have reported that RA upregulates thrombomodulin (TM) expression on the endothelial cell surface. The objective of this study was to investigate how and to what extent the TM concentration changes after RA treatment in cancer patients, and how this variation influences the blood coagulation cascade.

Results: In this study, we introduced an ordinary differential equation (ODE) model of gene expression for the RA-induced upregulation of TM concentration. Coupling the gene expression model with a two-compartment pharmacokinetic model of RA, we obtained the time-dependent changes in TM and thrombomodulin-mRNA (TMR) concentrations following oral administration of RA. Our results indicated that the TM concentration reached its peak level almost 14 h after taking a single oral dose (110 [Formula: see text]) of RA. Continuous treatment with RA resulted in oscillatory expression of TM on the endothelial cell surface. We then coupled the gene expression model with a mechanistic model of the coagulation cascade, and showed that the elevated levels of TM over the course of RA therapy with a single daily oral dose (110 [Formula: see text]) of RA, reduced the peak thrombin levels and endogenous thrombin potential (ETP) up to 50 and 49%, respectively. We showed that progressive reductions in plasma levels of RA, observed in continuous RA therapy with a once-daily oral dose (110 [Formula: see text]) of RA, did not affect TM-mediated reduction of thrombin generation significantly. This finding prompts the hypothesis that continuous RA treatment has more consistent therapeutic effects on coagulation disorders than on cancer.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that the oscillatory upregulation of TM expression on the endothelial cells over the course of RA therapy could potentially contribute to the treatment of coagulation abnormalities in cancer patients. Further studies on the impacts of RA therapy on the procoagulant activity of cancer cells are needed to better elucidate the mechanisms by which RA therapy improves hemostatic abnormalities in cancer.

Keywords: Acute promyelocytic leukemia; All-trans retinoic acid; Disseminated intravascular coagulation; Mathematical model; Pharmacodynamics; Pharmacokinetics; Thrombomodulin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Coagulation / drug effects
  • Blood Coagulation Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Computer Simulation
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / blood*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Thrombin / metabolism
  • Thrombomodulin / blood
  • Thrombomodulin / metabolism*
  • Tretinoin / blood
  • Tretinoin / pharmacokinetics
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology
  • Tretinoin / therapeutic use*


  • Thrombomodulin
  • Tretinoin
  • Thrombin