Fenretinide-induced Apoptosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia Cells via NR4A1 Translocation into Mitochondria and Bcl-2 Transformation

J Cancer. 2019 Nov 1;10(27):6767-6778. doi: 10.7150/jca.32167. eCollection 2019.


OBJECTIVE: Fenretinide is reported to induce NR4A1-associated apoptosis in several types of cancer cells. However, it remains unclear about its specific role and the underlying mechanism in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Therefore, this study aimed to explore the role and mechanism of fenretinide-induced apoptosis in AML. METHOD: Firstly, the NR4A1 mRNA level in the newly diagnosed AML patients was measured, then AML cells were treated with fenretinide at various time points and doses, and cell viability was investigated by using the cell-counting kit-8 (CCK-8) assay. Additionally, apoptosis and cell cycles were analyzed by using flow cytometry. Moreover, siNR4A1 was utilized to knockdown NR4A1 expression, and leptomycin B (LMB) was adopted to inhibit the nuclear export; afterwards, the apoptosis rate and expression of apoptotic proteins in AML cells were detected. In addition, the expression levels of NR4A1 in the nuclei and mitochondria of fenretinide-treated AML cells were also measured. Meanwhile, the interaction between NR4A1 and Bcl-2, as well as the Bcl-2 transformation, was also examined. The anti-leukemic effect of fenretinide on NOD/SCID mice was also determined through subcutaneous injection of HL-60 cells. RESULTS: NR4A1 expression in AML patients was markedly down-regulated compared with that in normal donors. Fenretinide induced the expression of NR4A1 and mitochondria-mediated apoptotic pathway-associated proteins in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. Importantly, both siNR4A1 alone or the combination of fenretinide with LMB could attenuate the fenretinide-induced apoptosis and expression of apoptotic proteins. Under the action of fenretinide, the NR4A1 protein expression was down-regulated in nuclear extracts whereas up-regulated in mitochondrial extracts. At the same time, fenretinide promoted NR4A1 translocation from nuclei into mitochondria, and enhanced the interaction between NR4A1 and Bcl-2, thereby exposing the BH3 domain of Bcl-2 to exert the anti-apoptotic effect. Moreover, fenretinide also exhibited an anti-leukemic effect and induced NR4A1 expression in the AML mouse model. CONCLUSIONS: Fenretinide exerts an obvious effect on AML cells both in vitro and in vivo. Besides, the NR4A1-mediated signaling pathway is highly involved in the fenretinide-induced apoptosis of AML cells.

Keywords: Acute myeloid leukemia; Apoptosis; Fenretinide; NR4A1; Nuclear export.