Maximizing efficacy of the hypomethylating drug 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine in human leukemia

Taichun Qin, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (DAC) is a cytidine analogue that strongly inhibits DNA methylation, and was recently approved for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). To maximize clinical results with DAC, we investigated its use as an anti-cancer drug. We also investigated mechanisms of resistance to DAC in vitro in cancer cell lines and in vivo in MDS patients after relapse. We found DAC sensitized cells to the effect of 1-β-D-Arabinofuranosylcytosine (Ara-C). The combination of DAC and Ara-C or Ara-C following DAC showed additive or synergistic effects on cell death in four human leukemia cell lines in vitro, but antagonism in terms of global methylation. RIL gene activation and H3 lys-9 acetylation of short interspersed elements (Alu). One possible explanation is that hypomethylated cells are sensitized to cell killing by Ara-C. Turning to resistance, we found that the IC50 of DAC differed 1000 fold among and was correlated with the dose of DAC that induced peak hypomethylation of long interspersed nuclear elements (LINE) (r=0.94, P<0.001), but not with LINE methylation at baseline (r=0.05, P=0.97). Sensitivity to DAC did not significantly correlate with sensitivity to another hypomethylating agent 5-azacytidine (AZA) (r=0.44, P=0.11). The cell lines most resistant to DAC had low dCK, hENT1, and hENT2 transporters and high cytosine deaminase (CDA). In an HL60 leukemia cell line, resistance to DAC could be rapidly induced by drug exposure, and was related to a switch from monoallelic to biallelic mutation of dCK or a loss of wild type DCK allele. Furthermore, we showed that DAC induced DNA breaks evidenced by histone H2AX phosphorylation and increased homologous recombination rates 7-10 folds. Finally, we found there were no dCK mutations in MDS patients after relapse. Cytogenetics showed that three of the patients acquired new abnormalities at relapse. These data suggest that in vitro spontaneous and acquired resistance to DAC can be explained by insufficient incorporation of drug into DNA. In vivo resistance to DAC is likely due to methylation-independent pathways such as chromosome changes. The lack of cross resistance between DAC and AZA is of potential clinical relevance, as is the combination of DAC and Ara-C.

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Recommended Citation

Qin, Taichun, "Maximizing efficacy of the hypomethylating drug 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine in human leukemia" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3305171.