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PLoS One. 2010 Feb 2;5(2):e9001. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009001.

A comparison of azacitidine and decitabine activities in acute myeloid leukemia cell lines.

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Celgene Corporation, San Francisco, California, United States of America.



The cytidine nucleoside analogs azacitidine (AZA) and decitabine (DAC) are used for the treatment of patients with myelodysplastic syndromes and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Few non-clinical studies have directly compared the mechanisms of action of these agents in a head-to-head fashion, and the agents are often viewed as mechanistically similar DNA hypomethylating agents. To better understand the similarities and differences in mechanisms of these drugs, we compared their in vitro effects on several end points in human AML cell lines.


Both drugs effected DNA methyltransferase 1 depletion, DNA hypomethylation, and DNA damage induction, with DAC showing equivalent activity at concentrations 2- to 10-fold lower than AZA. At concentrations above 1 microM, AZA had a greater effect than DAC on reducing cell viability. Both drugs increased the sub-G1 fraction and apoptosis markers, with AZA decreasing all cell cycle phases and DAC causing an increase in G2-M. Total protein synthesis was reduced only by AZA, and drug-modulated gene expression profiles were largely non-overlapping.


These data demonstrate shared mechanisms of action of AZA and DAC on DNA-mediated markers of activity, but distinctly different effects in their actions on cell viability, protein synthesis, cell cycle, and gene expression. The differential effects of AZA may be mediated by RNA incorporation, as the distribution of AZA in nucleic acid of KG-1a cells was 65:35, RNA:DNA.

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