We have previously shown that the synthetic peptide pGlu-Glu-Asp-Cys- Lys (pEEDCK monomer) inhibits the cytostatic drug-induced proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells CFU-S. Keeping CFU-S quiescent by pEEDCK treatment renders them insensitive to cycle-specific cytostatic drugs and leads to reduced toxicity. Here we show that pEEDCK application during repeated (twice) administration of clinically relevant (nonlethal) 1-beta-D-arabinofuranosylcytosine (Ara-C) doses reduced the percentage of CFU-S in S-phase from 60%-70% to 25%-30% and led to a sustained stem cell number in the bone marrow (BM), whereas unprotected mice had lost about 75% of their CFU-S population. Owing to its cysteine content, the pEEDCK monomer is easily oxidized. The resulting dimer (pEEDCK)2 is a potent stimulator of hematopoiesis. As we show, it can be used for postchemotherapy acceleration of hematologic recovery, similar to the use of recombinant hematopoietic growth factors. A single injection of 30 micrograms/kg pEEDCK monomer to mice 2 hours before the second Ara-C injection retarded onset of neutropenia (by 2 to 3 days) and improved recovery after depression. The quantitative degree of neutropenia was not changed. Postchemotherapy (Ara-C administered twice, followed by N-mustard) infusion of the stimulatory (pEEDCK)2 dimer (1.4 micrograms/kg/d) produced a 4.6-fold increase of progenitor levels (6.7 CFU-GM/1,000 BM cells v 1.45 CFU-GM/1,000 in normal mice) 2 days after the end of the cytostatic treatment when CFU- GM were not detectable in unprotected mice. This increase was followed after several days by strongly elevated granulocyte counts, which remained high for approximately 1 week. Up to 75% of the peripheral leukocytes were mature polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) during this phase. Ara-C (twice) and monomer treatment as above followed by dimer infusion resulted in the complete protection of hematopoiesis. Mice treated with the protective pEEDCK monomer plus stimulatory dimer did not develop the leukocyte depression noted in unprotected animals. The inhibitory monomer appears to keep the stem cell population numerically and qualitatively intact, thus providing optimum target cell conditions for the subsequent stimulator (dimer) treatment. Our results show that the hemoregulatory peptide monomer and dimer can be used for improving the hematologic status of mice treated with clinically relevant doses of cytostatic drugs (antimetabolite and alkylating, alone and in combination). Combining both peptides can prevent occurrence of neutropenia completely. Both peptides can be obtained easily by chemical synthesis and are also active on human cells. They are thus highly promising candidates for application as multilevel hemoprotectors in cancer chemotherapy.

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