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Citrus flavone tangeretin inhibits leukaemic HL-60 cell growth partially through induction of apoptosis with less cytotoxicity on normal lymphocytes


Certain anti-cancer agents are known to induce apoptosis in human tumour cells. However, these agents are intrinsically cytotoxic against cells of normal tissue origin, including myelocytes and immunocytes. Here we show that a naturally occurring flavone of citrus origin, tangeretin (5,6,7,8,4'-pentamethoxyflavone), induces apoptosis in human promyelocytic leukaemia HL-60 cells, whereas the flavone showed no cytotoxicity against human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). The growth of HL-60 cells in vitro assessed by [3H]thymidine incorporation or tetrazolium crystal formation was strongly suppressed in the presence of tangeretin; the IC50 values range between 0.062 and 0.173 microM. Apoptosis of HL-60 cells, assessed by cell morphology and DNA fragmentation, was demonstrated in the presence of > 2.7 microM tangeretin. Flow cytometric analysis of tangeretin-treated HL-60 cells also demonstrated apoptotic cells with low DNA content and showed a decrease of G1 cells and a concomitant increase of S and/or G2/M cells. Apoptosis was evident after 24 h of incubation with tangeretin, and the tangeretin effect as assessed by DNA fragmentation or growth inhibition was significantly attenuated in the presence of Zn2+, which is known to inhibit Ca(2+)-dependent endonuclease activity. Ca2+ and Mg2+, in contrast, promoted the effect of tangeretin. Cycloheximide significantly decreased the tangeretin effect on HL-60 cell growth, suggesting that protein synthesis is required for flavonoid-induced apoptosis. Tangeretin showed no cytotoxicity against either HL-60 cells or mitogen-activated PBMCs even at high concentration (27 microM) as determined by a dye exclusion test. Moreover, the flavonoid was less effective on growth of human T-lymphocytic leukaemia MOLT-4 cells or on blastogenesis of PBMCs. These results suggest that tangeretin inhibits growth of HL-60 cells in vitro, partially through induction of apoptosis, without causing serious side-effects on immune cells.

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Hirano, T., Abe, K., Gotoh, M. et al. Citrus flavone tangeretin inhibits leukaemic HL-60 cell growth partially through induction of apoptosis with less cytotoxicity on normal lymphocytes. Br J Cancer 72, 1380–1388 (1995).

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