Thrombopoietin (TPO) is implicated as a primary regulator of megakaryopoiesis and thrombopoiesis. However, the biologic effects of TPO on human acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) cells are largely unknown. To determine if recombinant human (rh) TPO has proliferation-supporting and differentiation-inducing activities in AML cells, 15 cases of AML cells that were exclusively composed of undifferentiated leukemia cells and showed growth response to rhTPO in a short-term culture (72 hours) were subjected to long-term suspension culture with or without rhTPO. Of 15 cases, rhTPO supported proliferation of AML cells for 2 to 4 weeks in 4 cases whose French-American-British subtypes were M0, M2, M4, and M7, respectively. In addition to the proliferation-supporting activity, rhTPO was found to induce AML cells to progress to some degree of megakaryocytic differentiation at both morphologic and surface-phenotypic level in 2 AML cases with M0 and M7 subtypes. The treatment of AML cells with rhTPO resulted in rapid tyrosine phosphorylation of the TPO-receptor, c-mpl, and STAT3 in all of cases tested. By contrast, the expression of erythroid/megakaryocyte-specific transcription factors (GATA-1, GATA-2, and NF-E2) was markedly induced or enhanced in only 2 AML cases that showed megakaryocytic differentiation in response to rhTPO. These results suggested that, at least in a fraction of AML cases, TPO could not only support the proliferation of AML cells irrespective of AML subtypes, but could also induce megakaryocytic differentiation, possibly through activation of GATA-1, GATA-2, and NF-E2.

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