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Selective toxicity of vincristine against chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells in vitro

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Abstract: The cytotoxicity of vincristine in vitro was investigated in B chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells and in normal peripheral blood mononuclear cells. An approximately 25‐fold selectivity towards leukemic vs. normal lymphocytes was demonstrated. Cells from patients having a mature subtype (CLL or CLL/mix) or a slowly progressing form of CLL were significantly more sensitive to vincristine in vitro than the cases with a CLL/PL phenotype or faster‐progressing disease. Depending on the vincristine dose, the number of dead CLL cells accumulated slowly during the 4‐d observation period. Our data indicate a marked individual variation in vincristine susceptibility among individual CLL cells. Vincristine induced annexin positivity, nuclear blebbing and DNA fragmentation in CLL cells. These indicate an “apoptosis‐like” cell death. Since CLL cells are in the G0/G1 phase of the cell cycle, the only known mode of anticancer action of vinca alkaloids, i.e. anti‐mitotic action, cannot explain the death of CLL cells. Furthermore, similar cellular uptake and efflux of vincristine by normal and CLL cells excluded pharmacokinetic differences as a cause of selectivity of vincristine towards leukemic lymphocytes. Immunostaining of filamentous structures of CLL cells revealed that vincristine brings about selective changes in α‐tubulin but not in β‐actin or vimentin. Although the antitubulin action of vinca alkaloids in the biochemical sense is well demonstrated, this kind of anticancer effect has not previously been shown. Vincristine is used in several regimens for CLL, but its efficacy in CLL has never been demonstrated in a clinical context and its value in routine CLL chemotherapy has been questioned. The present data strongly support the need for further evaluation of the role and mode of action of vincristine in chemotherapy of CLL and other cancers as well.
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Keywords: anticancer drugs; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; cytotoxicity; vincristine

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2000

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