Genistein (GEN) is an isoflavone known to inhibit both tyrosine protein kinases and DNA topoisomerase II. The effects of GEN on cell proliferation and cell cycle kinetics of human myelogenous leukemia HL-60 and lymphocytic leukemia MOLT-4 cell cultures were studied, and the data were compared to results obtained with normal human lymphocytes stimulated to proliferate with phytohemagglutinin. GEN concentrations greater than 50 µg/ml (185 µm) were cytotoxic to HL-60 and MOLT-4 cells following exposure for 24 h; in HL-60 cell cultures, a population of cells with decreased DNA content and nuclear fragmentation characteristic of apoptosis was observed within 8 h. The 50% inhibition concentration after 24 h of exposure for HL-60 and MOLT-4 cells was 8.5 and 13.0 µg/ml, respectively. Normal proliferating lymphocytes survived a 24-h exposure of up to 200 µg/ml GEN. Short-term (4–8 h) exposures of MOLT-4 or HL-60 cells to 5–20 µg/ml GEN resulted in a suppression of cell progression through S or through both S and G2 phases, respectively, while equivalent treatment had no effect on proliferating lymphocytes. A stathmokinetic experiment using MOLT-4 cells revealed that as little as 5 µg/ml GEN suppressed cell exit from S to G2 phase by 40%, with a terminal point of action at or near the S-G2 border. Cell progression through the very early portion of G1 phase (G1A, characterized by postmitotic chromatin decondensation) was also suppressed by approximately 40%, whereas cell advancement through the remainder of the G1 phase was not markedly affected. Longer (24 h) exposure of proliferating lymphocytes to 20 µg/ml GEN led to an S-phase arrest, while similar treatment of leukemic cells caused cell arrest in G2 phase and an increase in the number of cells entering the cycle at higher DNA ploidy. The mitogen-induced transition of lymphocytes from G0 to G1 phase was extremely sensitive to inhibition by GEN; the 50% inhibition concentration was 1.6 µg/ml. The chemotherapeutic value of GEN may be due to the fact that, in terms of cytotoxicity, this agent is more active against proliferating leukemic cells than against normal proliferating lymphocytes. The sensitivity of the G0 to G1 transition in normal lymphocyte cultures and the suppressive effect of GEN on the G1A exit in MOLT-4 cells both suggest that protein kinases involved in chromatin decondensation may be a target of this drug. In light of the observation that lymphocyte stimulation is sensitive to the presence of GEN, the drug is expected to be a strong immunosuppressant.


Supported by USPHS Grants R37 CA23296 and CA28704, as well as the Carl Inserra and “This Close” Fund for Cancer Research.

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