Blasts from elderly acute myeloid leukemia patients are characterized by low levels of culture- and drug-induced apoptosis

Sara M. Garrido, John J. Cooper, Frederick R. Appelbaum, Cheryl L. Willman, Kenneth Kopecky, Deborah E. Banker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing evidence suggests that the biology of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) may differ between older and younger patients, with a higher incidence of antecedent myelodysplasia, unfavorable cytogenetic abnormalities, and multidrug resistance seen in the elderly. Abrogation of apoptosis in response to cytotoxic medications is associated with drug resistance in AML, as is expression of bcl-2, an important anti-apoptotic protein. We hypothesized that blasts from elderly (≥55 years) and young adult AML patients might have different levels of apoptotic and cell cycle responses to chemotherapeutic agents, as well as different levels of proliferation and of bcl-2 protein expression. Therefore, we cultured bone marrow leukemia samples from previously untreated elderly (n = 33) and young (n = 21) AML patients for 48 h and then measured apoptosis, bcl-2 protein levels, cell cycle distributions, and expression of a proliferation marker, proliferating cellular nuclear antigen (PCNA) in multi-parametric flow cytometry assays. In some experiments, leukemia samples were exposed to cytarabine (Ara-C) or daunomycin (DNR) for the last 16-18 h of the culture period. In comparison to samples from young patients, cultured samples from elderly AML patients had a higher fraction of viable cells, as measured by Trypan blue exclusion, higher PCNA expression, and significantly less culture-induced and drug-induced apoptosis. The mean apoptosis after culture was 13% for elderly AML samples, versus 20% for young AML samples (P = 0.009). Similarly, the mean apoptosis after Ara-C was lower in elderly than in young AML samples, 13 versus 28% (P = 0.001), as was the mean apoptosis after DNR, 15 versus 26% (P = 0.012). Diminished apoptotic responses in elderly AML cells were not consistently associated with high bcl-2 levels at thaw or bcl-2 levels increased by culture. These data suggest that new therapies should be developed to overcome abrogated apoptosis, particularly in elderly AML patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-32
Number of pages10
JournalLeukemia Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


  • AML
  • Apoptosis, bcl-2
  • Elderly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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