Induction of apoptosis in malignant B cells by phenylbutyrate or phenylacetate in combination with chemotherapeutic agents

Thomas E. Witzig, Michael Timm, Mary Stenson, Phyllis A. Svingen, Scott H. Kaufmann

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53 Scopus citations


Phenylacetate (PA) and phenylbutyrate (PB) are aromatic fatty acids that are presently undergoing evaluation as potential antineoplastic agents. In vitro, PA and PB cause differentiation or growth inhibition of malignant cells. Clinical trials of these drugs as single agents indicate that they are not myelosuppressive; therefore, combinations with other chemotherapy agents may be possible. The goals of this study were to determine whether PA and PB (a) are cytotoxic to malignant B cells from patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia and (b) exhibit additive or synergistic induction of apoptosis when administered to myeloma cell lines in combination with conventional drugs. In the clinical specimens, cytotoxicity was measured by the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide assay, and percent apoptosis was measured using 7-aminoactinomycin D and flow cytometry. Viability was decreased by >50% in 7% (1/15) of non- Hodgkin's lymphoma samples treated with 5 mM PA, 27% treated with 1 mM PB, and 60% treated with 2 mM PB. Likewise, viability was decreased by >50% in 44% (4/9) of chronic lymphocytic leukemia samples treated with 5 mM PA, 67% treated with 1 mM PB, and 100% treated with 2 mM PB. Studies in the myeloma cell lines demonstrated that PB treatment induced activation of caspases 3, 7, and 9 accompanied by cleavage of their substrates and internucleosomal DNA degradation. Combinations of PA or PB with conventional drugs (cytarabine, topotecan, doxorubicin, etoposide, chlorambucil, melphalan, fludarabine, carboplatin, and cisplatin) were examined for synergism (combination index <1 in median effect analysis) in inducing apoptosis of both the MY5 and 8226 human myeloma cell lines. At concentrations that killed >50% of cells, most combinations were additive; however, PB was synergistic with cytarabine, etoposide, and topotecan, with the combination index <1 at each of the 50, 75, and 95% apoptosis levels. These observations indicate that PA and PB can induce apoptosis in malignant B cells and enhance the cytotoxicity of agents used in the treatment of these malignancies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)681-692
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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