Cytokines in the differentiation therapy of leukemia: From laboratory investigations to clinical applications

K. N. Leung*, Nai Ki MAK, M. C. Fung

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Differentiation therapy of leukemia is the treatment of leukemia cells with biological or chemical agents that induce the terminal differentiation of the cancer cells. It is regarded as a novel and targeted approach to leukemia treatment, based on our better understanding of the hematopoietic process and the mechanisms of its deregulation during leukemogenesis. Clinically, differentiation therapy has been most successful in acute promyelocytic leukemia using all-trans-retinoic acid as the inducer, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy. This review presents evidence that a number of hematopoietic cytokines play important roles in both normal and aberrant hematopoietic processes. In vitro laboratory investigations in the past two decades using well-characterized myeloid leukemic cell lines and primary blast cells from leukemia patients have revealed that many hematopoietic cytokines can trigger lineage-specific differentiation of leukemia cells, which may have important implications in the clinical setting. Moreover, our current understanding of cytokine interactions and the molecular mechanisms of cytokine-induced leukemic cell differentiation will be discussed in the light of recent findings. Finally, ways in which laboratory research on cytokines in the differentiation therapy of leukemia can lead to the improved design of protocols for future clinical applications to leukemia therapy will also be addressed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-514
Number of pages42
JournalCritical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2005

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical

User-Defined Keywords

  • Acute promyelocytic leukemia
  • Colony-stimulating factors
  • Cytokines
  • Dendritic cells
  • Differentiation inducers
  • Differentiation therapy
  • Hematopoiesis
  • Hematopoietic stem cells
  • Myeloid leukemia
  • Transcription factors


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