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01.12.2019 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2019 Open Access

BMC Cancer 1/2019

The effects of photodynamic therapy on leukemia cells mediated by KillerRed, a genetically encoded fluorescent protein photosensitizer

BMC Cancer > Ausgabe 1/2019
Meng Yuan, Chengcheng Liu, Jiao Li, Wenpeng Ma, Xiaozhuo Yu, Ping Zhang, Yanhong Ji
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Leukemia is a cancer of blood and bone marrow cells, causing about 300,000 deaths worldwide. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a promising alternative for the treatment of malignant tumors. KillerRed is a genetically encoded red fluorescent protein photosensitizer (PS). In this study, we aimed to investigate the effects of KillerRed-mediated PDT on chronic myelogenous leukemia K562 cells, acute monocytic leukemia NB4 cells, and acute monocytic leukemia THP1 cells.


KillerRed was expressed in Escherichia coli cells, purified by Q-Sepharose column, and confirmed by western-blotting. The PDT effect on cell proliferation was evaluated by Cell Counting Kit-8 (CCK-8). Cell apoptosis was determined by PE Annexin V/7-AAD staining and flow cytometry. The distribution of KillerRed in leukemia cells was detected by confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) and western-blotting. The ROS generation was measured by flow cytometry.


Pure KillerRed was obtained with a yield of about 37 mg per liter of bacterial cells. KillerRed photodynamic inactivated the leukemia cells in a concentration-dependent manner, but exhibited no obvious dark toxicity. PDT mediated by KillerRed could also induce apoptotic response (mainly early apoptosis) in the three cell lines. The CLSM imaging indicated that KillerRed was distributed within the cytoplasm and nuclei of leukemia cells, causing damages to the cytoplasm and leaving the nuclear envelope intact during light irradiation. KillerRed distributed both in the cytosol and nuclei was confirmed by western blotting, and ROS significantly increased in PDT treated cells compared to the cells treated with KillerRed alone.


Our studies demonstrated that KillerRed-mediated PDT could effectively inactivate K562, NB4, and THP1 leukemia cells and trigger cell apoptosis, and it has potential to be used individually or complementally, in the treatment of leukemia.
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