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Leuk Res. 1999 Jan;23(1):43-50.

Boswellic acid acetate induces differentiation and apoptosis in leukemia cell lines.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, People's Republic of China.


Boswellic acid acetate (BC-4), a compound isolated from the herb Boswellia carterii Birdw., can induce differentiation and apoptosis of leukemia cells. Based on cell morphology and NBT reduction, BC-4 induced monocytic differentiation of myeloid leukemia HL-60, U937 and ML-1 cells at a dose under 12.5 microg/ml (24.2 microM). BC-4 was a potent inducer, with 90% of the cells showing morphologic changes and 80-90% of the cells showing NBT reduction. Specific and non-specific esterase were also increased by BC-4. Based on benzidine staining assay, BC-4 failed to induce erythroid leukemia DS-19 and K562 cells differentiation. In contrast to its selective differentiation effect, BC-4 strongly inhibited growth of all cell lines tested. The growth inhibition effect was dose- and time-dependent. In HL-60 cells, 20 microg/ml (38.8 microM) of BC-4 decreased viable cell number by 60% at 24 h, whereas at 3 days there was virtually no viable cells. Morphologic and DNA fragmentation analysis proved that BC-4 induced cell apoptosis. The dual apoptotic and differentiation effects of BC-4 suggest that it may be a powerful agent in the treatment of leukemia.

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