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Int J Oncol. 2002 Dec;21(6):1245-50.

Enhancement of activation-induced apoptosis of lymphocytes by the cytotoxic ribonuclease onconase (Ranpirnase).

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  • 1Brander Cancer Research Institute, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY, USA.


Onconase (Onc) is an amphibian ribonuclease of the pancreatic RNase family that is cytostatic and cytotoxic to several tumor lines. It also shows anti-tumor activity in mouse tumor models and is currently in phase III clinical trials. In animal tests and clinical trials Onc shows lesser toxicity and fewer side effects compared to most chemotherapeutic drugs. Intriguingly, repeated infusions of this protein do not cause apparent immunological reactions in patients. The aim of the present study was to investigate sensitivity to Onc of human lymphocytes during their mitogenic stimulation in response to the polyvalent mitogen phytohemagglutinin (PHA), and in mixed allogeneic lymphocyte cultures. Unexpectedly, we observed that frequency of cells undergoing activation-induced apoptosis was markedly increased in all cultures containing Onc. Apoptosis was measured by flow cytometry using markers that detect activation of caspases, the in situ presence of DNA strand breaks, and loss of fragmented DNA ('sub-G1' cell subpopulation). The enhancement of frequency of activation-induced apoptosis (up to 244%) was observed at 4.2-83 nM Onc concentration, which is at least an order magnitude lower than its minimal concentration reported to affect proliferation or induce apoptosis of leukemic and solid tumor cell lines. The cell cycle progression of lymphocytes that responded to PHA mitogenically was not affected at 8.3 or 83 nM Onc concentration. Because activation-induced apoptosis is the key mechanism regulating several in vivo immunological functions including induction of tolerance, the observed effects of Onc may explain the apparent lack of immune reactions to this protein in treated patients. The propensity of Onc to potentiate the activation-induced apoptosis suggests that this drug may have clinical utility as immunomodulating agent, e.g., to suppress transplant rejection or treat autoimmune diseases.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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