Human malignant melanoma is notoriously resistant to pharmacological modulation. We describe here for the first time that the synthetic retinoid CD437 has a strong dose-dependent antiproliferative effect on human melanoma cells (IC50: 5 x 10(-6) M) via the induction of programmed cell death, as judged by analysis of cell morphology, electron microscopical features, and DNA fragmentation. Programmed cell death was preceded by a strong activation of the AP-1 complex in CD437-treated cells as demonstrated by gel retardation and chloramphenicol transferase (CAT) assays. Northern blot analysis showed a time-dependent increase in the expression of c-fos and c-jun encoding components of AP-1, whereas bcl-2 and p53 mRNA levels remained constant. CD437 also exhibited a strong growth inhibitory effect on MeWo melanoma cells in a xenograft model. In tissue sections of CD437-treated MeWo tumors from these animals, apoptotic melanoma cells and c-fos overexpressing cells were colocalized by TdT-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate-digoxigenin nick end labeling (TUNEL) staining and in situ hybridization. Taken together, this report identifies CD437 as a retinoid that activates and upregulates the transcription factor AP-1, leading eventually to programmed cell death of exposed human melanoma cells in vitro and in vivo. Further studies are needed to evaluate whether synthetic retinoids such as CD437 represent a new class of retinoids, which may open up new ways to a more effective therapy of malignant melanoma.

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