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J Cell Physiol. 1995 Apr;163(1):38-50.

Inhibition of heme synthesis induces apoptosis in human erythroid progenitor cells.

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Department of Medicine, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee.


Heme synthesis by erythroid progenitor cells is maintained by erythropoietin (EP), insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), and stem cell factor (SCF), and without these growth factors apoptosis (programmed cell death) occurs. To clarify the possible interaction between heme synthesis and programmed cell death of human erythroid progenitor cells, the effect of specific inhibition of heme synthesis on apoptosis of highly purified human erythroid colony forming cells (ECFC) was studied. When the amount of uncleaved DNA was determined as a measure of apoptosis, the heme synthesis inhibitors, succinylacetone (SA) (0.1 mmol/L) or isonicotinic acid hydrazide (INH) (10 mmol/L), significantly decreased the amount of uncleaved DNA (P < 0.01) in the presence of erythropoietin (EP). Addition of recombinant heavy-chain ferritin (rHF) (10 nmol/L), or deprivation of transferrin from the culture medium, which decreased heme synthesis, also reduced the amount of uncleaved DNA (P < 0.01). The production of apoptosis by diverse inhibitors of heme synthesis was in each case reversed by the addition of hemin (0.1 mmol/L) and did not occur with HL-60 cells. When the colony-forming capacity of ECFC was determined by plasma clot assay, SA, INH, or rHF reduced the number of CFU-E (P < 0.01), and the effect of SA was reversed by hemin. The addition of SA did not alter the c-myc response of ECFC to EP. These data indicate that inhibition of heme synthesis induces apoptosis of human erythroid progenitor cells, in a manner independent of an early c-myc response, and suggest that the presence of apoptosis in ineffective erythropoiesis may be secondary to impaired heme synthesis.

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