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Biochem Pharmacol. 1996 Sep 13;52(5):713-22.

Effects of hemin on apoptosis, suppression of cytochrome c oxidase gene expression, and bone-marrow toxicity induced by doxorubicin (adriamycin).

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece.


We have shown that hemin (iron-protoporphyrin IX) selectively counteracts doxorubicin (Adriamycin, ADR)-induced cytotoxicity on human leukemia K-562 cells by preventing ADR from inhibiting mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase (COX), a novel target site for anthracyclines. Here, we investigated whether or not (a) treatment with ADR promotes apoptosis and represses the expression of two COX genes (one nuclear and one mitochondrial) in human K-562 cells in the absence and presence of hemin, and (b) injection of hemin preserves bone-marrow cellularity in ADR-myelosuppressed rats. Cultured K-562 cells were incubated with varying concentrations of ADR.HCl (0.2 microM to 5 microM) in the presence and absence of hemin (30 microM) and assessed for DNA degradation, as well as for expression of mitochondrial COXII and nuclear COXIV genes by RNA Northern blot hybridization analysis. In parallel, we investigated whether or not hemin injected i.p. in myelosuppressed rats affected ADR-induced bone-marrow cytotoxicity. These studies have shown the following: (a) ADR caused a dose- and time-dependent DNA fragmentation, characteristic of apoptosis, in K-562 cells; (b) hemin reduced the frequency of cell death caused by ADR: this effect was specific for ADR, because hemin failed to prevent apoptosis induced by methotrexate (MTX) in these cells; (c) ADR suppressed expression of COXIV and COXII genes, and exposure of ADR-treated K-562 cells to hemin did not reverse this suppression; and (d) i.p. injection of hemin in ADR-myelosuppressed rats improved bone-marrow cellularity, promoted colony formation (CFU-GM and CFU-F), and stromal cell outgrowth; moreover, hemin increased WBC counts depressed 12 days after ADR treatment. These studies indicate that hemin is a selective inhibitor of ADR-induced apoptosis of human leukemia cells and preserves bone-marrow cellularity in rats injected with ADR.

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