Transcriptional and Metabolic Dissection of ATRA-Induced Granulocytic Differentiation in NB4 Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia Cells

Cells. 2020 Nov 5;9(11):2423. doi: 10.3390/cells9112423.


Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is a hematological disease characterized by a balanced reciprocal translocation that leads to the synthesis of the oncogenic fusion protein PML-RARα. APL is mainly managed by a differentiation therapy based on the administration of all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) and arsenic trioxide (ATO). However, therapy resistance, differentiation syndrome, and relapses require the development of new low-toxicity therapies based on the induction of blasts differentiation. In keeping with this, we reasoned that a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms pivotal for ATRA-driven differentiation could definitely bolster the identification of new therapeutic strategies in APL patients. We thus performed an in-depth high-throughput transcriptional profile analysis and metabolic characterization of a well-established APL experimental model based on NB4 cells that represent an unevaluable tool to dissect the complex mechanism associated with ATRA-induced granulocytic differentiation. Pathway-reconstruction analysis using genome-wide transcriptional data has allowed us to identify the activation/inhibition of several cancer signaling pathways (e.g., inflammation, immune cell response, DNA repair, and cell proliferation) and master regulators (e.g., transcription factors, epigenetic regulators, and ligand-dependent nuclear receptors). Furthermore, we provide evidence of the regulation of a considerable set of metabolic genes involved in cancer metabolic reprogramming. Consistently, we found that ATRA treatment of NB4 cells drives the activation of aerobic glycolysis pathway and the reduction of OXPHOS-dependent ATP production. Overall, this study represents an important resource in understanding the molecular "portfolio" pivotal for APL differentiation, which can be explored for developing new therapeutic strategies.

Keywords: DNA repair; NB4 cell line; acute promyelocytic leukemia; aerobic glycolysis; all-trans-retinoic acid; epigenetic regulators; immune cell response; inflammation; metabolism; transcriptomic profile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Lineage / drug effects
  • Cohort Studies
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Leukemic / drug effects
  • Glycolysis / drug effects
  • Glycolysis / genetics
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / genetics*
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / metabolism*
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / pathology
  • Myeloid Cells / drug effects
  • Myeloid Cells / metabolism
  • Myeloid Cells / pathology
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Transcription, Genetic* / drug effects
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*


  • Tretinoin