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01.12.2018 | Primary Research | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

Cancer Cell International 1/2018

Imiquimod inhibits growth and induces differentiation of myeloid leukemia cell lines

Cancer Cell International > Ausgabe 1/2018
Eva Villamón, Javier González-Fernández, Esperanza Such, José Vicente Cervera, Daniel Gozalbo, M. Luisa Gil



The antitumoral effects of different Toll-like receptor (TLRs) agonists is mediated by activating immune responses to suppress tumors growth, although TLR ligands may also have a direct effect on tumoral cells. Given that TLR signaling induces hematopoietic cell differentiations this may serve as a novel differentiation therapeutic approach for AML.


We investigated the effects of agonists for the ten human TLRs on the proliferation, apoptosis, cell cycle and differentiation of ten different types of myeloid leukemia cell lines (HL-60, U-937, KG-1, KG-1a, K-562, Kasumi-1, EOL-1, NB4, MOLM-13 and HEL). Proliferation was measured using the CellTiter 96® Aqueous One Solution Cell Proliferation Assay (Promega). Staining and analysis with a flow cytometer was used to identify cell cycle progression and apoptosis. Differentiation was measured by staining cells with the EuroFlow™ antibody panel for AML and analyzed by flow cytometry. FlowJo software was used to analyze the cytometric data. In all experiments, statistical significance was determined by a two-tailed t test.


The activation of particular TLRs on some cell lines can induce growth inhibition and Imiquimod (a TLR 7 agonist) was the most effective agonist in all leukemic cell lines examined. Imiquimod was able to induce apoptosis, as well as to induce cell cycle alteration and upregulation of myeloid differentiation markers on some of the cell lines tested.


Our results, together with the known efficacy of Imiquimod against many tumor entities, suggest that Imiquimod can be a potential alternative therapy to AML. This drug has a direct cytotoxic effect on leukemic cells, has the potential to induce differentiation, and can also stimulate the activation of cellular immune responses anti-AML.
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