Blood Journal
Leading the way in experimental and clinical research in hematology

Distinct temporal patterns of defensin mRNA regulation during drug- induced differentiation of human myeloid leukemia cells

  1. S Herwig,
  2. Q Su,
  3. W Zhang,
  4. Y Ma, and
  5. P Tempst
  1. Molecular Biology Program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, N.Y. 10021, USA.


Defensins are microbicidal peptides and the principal constituents of neutrophil primary granules. They are presumed to play a prominent role in innate host defenses. We examined defensin mRNA levels during drug-induced differentiation of the promyelocytic leukemia cell line, HL-60. Transcription was restricted to promyelocyte, myelocyte, and very early metamyelocyte stages of the granulocytic pathway. Complete downregulation occurred during late granulocytic maturation or early during phorbol ester-promoted differentiation along the monocyte/macrophage lineage. Retinoic acid (RA) was the strongest inducer of defensin mRNA accumulation, even at doses too low to effect morphologic changes; the initial (first 48 hours), gradual increase resulted from transcriptional activation and was enhanced by granulocyte colony-stimulating factor. In contrast, addition of hybrid polar compounds led to a transient, drug-specific downregulation within the same time period, apparently by means of selectively induced, biphasic degradation of transcripts. Subsequent increase in transcript levels was faster and more pronounced with hexamethylene bisacetamide, relative to dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). DMSO-promoted effects were strikingly different in serum-free medium or in the presence of the tyrosine kinase inhibitor, genistein. Under these conditions, and although differentiation was unaffected, early defensin mRNA downregulation was final. The effect did not occur with RA and expression of other myeloid-specific genes was also unchanged. Addition of selected cytokines caused a similar “dip,” only at earlier times and uncoupled from differentiation. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha markedly induced defensin levels after 2 days in previously untreated HL-60 cells, but inhibited expression in RA-differentiated cells. These results begin to detail a complex regulation of defensin mRNA synthesis with both spatial and temporal control elements, and a unique modulation by chemical agents, cytokines, and serum-factors.