Cisplatin exerts its cytotoxicity by inducing apoptosis. Similarly, all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) causes apoptosis in certain cells. We studied the interaction of cisplatin and ATRA in human ovarian adenocarcinoma cells 2008, in human head and neck squamous carcinoma cells UMSCC10b, and in their respective cisplatin-resistant sub-lines. ATRA enhanced the cytotoxicity of cisplatin. The interaction of the drugs was synergistic in combination index-isobologram analyses (combination index >0.5 at 50% cell survival) in all of the cell lines tested. ATRA inhibited the cellular accumulation of the cisplatin analogue [3H] cis-dichloroethylenediamineplatinum(II) by 22-33% in three of four cell lines tested but did not alter the cellular content of reduced glutathione. The expression of Bcl-2 relative to Bax decreased more after combined treatment with cisplatin and ATRA than after either drug alone. The apoptotic mechanism of cell death was confirmed by demonstrating cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase and by morphological analysis. The combined treatment with ATRA and cisplatin induced apoptosis in significantly more cells than either drug alone. We conclude that ATRA enhances the cytotoxicity of cisplatin by facilitating apoptosis in ovarian and head and neck carcinoma cells.

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