We investigated the effect of retinoic acid (RA) and herbimycin A (herb-A) on cell growth, cell differentiation, and colony formation of human neuroblastoma cell lines. The neuroblastoma line SK-N-SH expressed both neuroblast and nonneuronal phenotypes, whereas its subclone SH-SY5Y and the Kelly cell line were predominantly neuroblastic. Both herb-A and RA, given alone, moderately reduced cell growth and colony formation of the neuroblastic cell lines. Growth curve analyses with SK-N-SH suggested that herb-A greatly reduced the number of initially growing cells, whereas RA slightly enhanced initial cell growth. Morphological changes were determined with the use of rhodamine-phalloidin staining of actin. Retinoic acid caused an increase in the fraction of neuroblast cell in SK-N-SH, and conversely of nonneuronal cells in SH-SY5Y and Kelly cell lines. Both drugs also caused partial differentiation towards a neuronal phenotype, and herb-A induced selective lysis of nonneuronal cells of SK-N-SH. Because of their discrepant effects, RA (10 µm) and herb-A (236 nm) were tested in combination at a concentration that had only moderate effects when given alone. The combination further reduced cell growth and colony formation and dramatically enhanced differentiation towards a neuronal morphology. The Kelly cell line with amplified N-myc genome, which correlates with clinical progression of neuroblastoma, was also sensitive to RA plus herb-A. These results recommend the combination of RA and herb-A for differentiation therapy of neuroblastoma.


Supported in part by Grants CA 37655 and CA 27866 from the National Cancer Institute, DA 04166 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Preuss Foundation, Inc., and a Max Kade fellowship (P. N. P.).

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