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      Sequential combination of decitabine and idarubicin synergistically enhances anti-leukemia effect followed by demethylating Wnt pathway inhibitor promoters and downregulating Wnt pathway nuclear target

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          The methylation inhibitor 5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine (decitabine, DAC) has a great therapeutic value for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). But decitabine monotherapy was associated with a relatively low rate of complete remission in AML and MDS. We aimed to investigate the effect of several anti-leukemia drugs in combination with decitabine on the proliferation of myeloid leukemia cells, to select the most efficient combination group and explore the associated mechanisms of these combination therapies.


          Cell proliferation was tested by MTT assay and CFU-GM assay. Cell apoptosis was evaluated by Annexin V and PI staining in cell culture, TUNEL assay and transmission electron microscopy in animal study. MicroPET was used to imaging the tumor in mouse model. Molecular studies were conducted using microarray expression analysis, which was used to explore associated pathways, and real-time quantitative reverse transcription-PCR, western blot and immunohistochemistry, used to assess regulation of Wnt/β-catenin pathway. Statistical significance among groups was determined by one-way ANOVA analysis followed by post hoc Bonferroni’s multiple comparison test.


          Among five anti-leukemia agents in combining with decitabine, the sequential combination of decitabine and idarubicin induced synergistic cell death in U937 cells, and this effect was verified in HEL, SKM-1 cells and AML cells isolated from AML patients. Importantly, tumor growth inhibition in this sequential combination was found to be higher than in single agent or controls in vivo. Moreover, sequential combination of the two agents induced apoptosis and depression of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway in both AML cell culture and animal studies.


          The findings demonstrated that sequentially combination of decitabine and idarubicin had synergistic anti-leukemia effects. These effects were mainly attributed to demethylation of Wnt/β-catenin pathway inhibitors and downregulation of Wnt/β-catenin pathway nuclear targets.

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          Most cited references 37

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          Wnt/beta-catenin signaling in development and disease.

           Hans Clevers (2006)
          A remarkable interdisciplinary effort has unraveled the WNT (Wingless and INT-1) signal transduction cascade over the last two decades. Wnt genes encode small secreted proteins that are found in all animal genomes. Wnt signaling is involved in virtually every aspect of embryonic development and also controls homeostatic self-renewal in a number of adult tissues. Germline mutations in the Wnt pathway cause several hereditary diseases, and somatic mutations are associated with cancer of the intestine and a variety of other tissues.
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            Quantitative analysis of dose-effect relationships: the combined effects of multiple drugs or enzyme inhibitors.

             P Talalay,  T C Chou (1984)
            A generalized method for analyzing the effects of multiple drugs and for determining summation, synergism and antagonism has been proposed. The derived, generalized equations are based on kinetic principles. The method is relatively simple and is not limited by whether the dose-effect relationships are hyperbolic or sigmoidal, whether the effects of the drugs are mutually exclusive or nonexclusive, whether the ligand interactions are competitive, noncompetitive or uncompetitive, whether the drugs are agonists or antagonists, or the number of drugs involved. The equations for the two most widely used methods for analyzing synergism, antagonism and summation of effects of multiple drugs, the isobologram and fractional product concepts, have been derived and been shown to have limitations in their applications. These two methods cannot be used indiscriminately. The equations underlying these two methods can be derived from a more generalized equation previously developed by us (59). It can be shown that the isobologram is valid only for drugs whose effects are mutually exclusive, whereas the fractional product method is valid only for mutually nonexclusive drugs which have hyperbolic dose-effect curves. Furthermore, in the isobol method, it is laborious to find proper combinations of drugs that would produce an iso-effective curve, and the fractional product method tends to give indication of synergism, since it underestimates the summation of the effect of mutually nonexclusive drugs that have sigmoidal dose-effect curves. The method described herein is devoid of these deficiencies and limitations. The simplified experimental design proposed for multiple drug-effect analysis has the following advantages: It provides a simple diagnostic plot (i.e., the median-effect plot) for evaluating the applicability of the data, and provides parameters that can be directly used to obtain a general equation for the dose-effect relation; the analysis which involves logarithmic conversion and linear regression can be readily carried out with a simple programmable electronic calculator and does not require special graph paper or tables; and the simplicity of the equation allows flexibility of application and the use of a minimum number of data points. This method has been used to analyze experimental data obtained from enzymatic, cellular and animal systems.
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              Wnt signalling in stem cells and cancer.

              The canonical Wnt cascade has emerged as a critical regulator of stem cells. In many tissues, activation of Wnt signalling has also been associated with cancer. This has raised the possibility that the tightly regulated self-renewal mediated by Wnt signalling in stem and progenitor cells is subverted in cancer cells to allow malignant proliferation. Insights gained from understanding how the Wnt pathway is integrally involved in both stem cell and cancer cell maintenance and growth in the intestinal, epidermal and haematopoietic systems may serve as a paradigm for understanding the dual nature of self-renewal signals.

                Author and article information

                J Transl Med
                J Transl Med
                Journal of Translational Medicine
                BioMed Central
                12 June 2014
                : 12
                : 167
                [1 ]Department of Hematology, the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310003, Zhejiang Province, People’s Republic of China
                [2 ]Department of Hematology, Yin Zhou People Hospital, Ningbo 315040, Zhejiang Province, People’s Republic of China
                [3 ]Institute of Hematology, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Hangzhou 310009, Zhejiang Province, People’s Republic of China
                [4 ]Department of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery, the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310003, Zhejiang Province, People’s Republic of China
                [5 ]Surgical Neurology Branch, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Building 10, Room 5D37, 9000, Rockvillle Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
                [6 ]Department of Hematology, Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital of Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310016, Zhejiang Province, People’s Republic of China
                Copyright © 2014 Li et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.



                idarubicin, decitabine, wnt, acute myeloid leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes


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