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Adv Ther. 2012 Sep;29(9):747-62. doi: 10.1007/s12325-012-0047-3. Epub 2012 Aug 28.

Retinoids in pediatric onco-hematology: the model of acute promyelocytic leukemia and neuroblastoma.

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  • 1Paediatric Oncology and Haematology Unit Lalla Seràgnoli, University of Bologna, Sant'Orsola-Malpighi Hospital, Via Massarenti 11, 40137, Bologna, Italy.


Retinoids are lipophilic compounds derived from vitamin A, which have been extensively studied in cancer prevention and therapy. In pediatric oncology, they are successfully used for the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) and high-risk neuroblastoma (HR-NBL). APL is a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) clinically characterized by a severe bleeding tendency with a highrisk of fatal hemorrhage. The molecular hallmark of this disease is the presence of the promyelocytic leukemia (PML)-retinoic acid receptor-α (RAR α) gene fusion that plays a critical role in promyelocytic leukemogenesis and represents the target of retinoid therapy. The introduction in the late 1980s of all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) into the therapy of APL radically changed the management and the outcome of this disease. Presently, the standard front-line therapeutic approach for pediatric APL includes anthracycline-based chemotherapy and ATRA, leading to a complete remission in almost 90% of the patients. Neuroblastoma (NBL) is an aggressive childhood tumor derived from the peripheral neural crest. More than half of patients have a high-risk disease, with a poor outcome despite intensive multimodal treatment. Although the exact mechanism of action remains unclear, the introduction of 13-cis-retinoic acid (13-cis-RA) in the therapy of NBL has improved the prognosis of this disease. Currently, the standard treatment for HR-NBL consists of myeloablative therapy followed by autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) and maintenance with 13-cis-RA for the treatment of minimal residual disease, leading to a 3-year disease-free survival rate (DFS) of about 50%. In this paper the authors provide a review of the peer-reviewed literature on the role of retinoids in the treatment of pediatric APL and HR-NBL, summarizing the most relevant clinical trial results of the last decades, analyzing the ongoing trials, and investigating future therapeutic perspectives of children affected by these diseases.

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