The human-derived promyelocytic leukemia cell line, HL-60, is known to differentiate into mature myeloid cells in the presence of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25[OH]2D3). We investigated differentiation by monitoring 1,25(OH)2D3-exposed HL-60 cells for phagocytic activity, ability to reduce nitroblue tetrazolium, binding of the chemotaxin N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-[3H]phenylalanine, development of nonspecific acid esterase activity, and morphological maturation of Wright-Giemsa-stained cells. 1,25(OH)2D3 concentrations as low as 10(-10) M caused significant development of phagocytosis, nitroblue tetrazolium reduction, and the emergence of differentiated myeloid cells that had morphological characteristics of both metamyelocytes and monocytes. These cells were conclusively identified as monocytes/macrophages based upon their adherence to the plastic flasks and their content of the macrophage-characteristic nonspecific acid esterase enzyme. The estimated ED50 for 1,25(OH)2D3-induced differentiation based upon nitroblue tetrazolium reduction and N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-[3H]phenylalanine binding was 5.7 X 10(-9) M. HL-60 cells exhibited a complex growth response with various levels of 1,25(OH)2D3: less than or equal to 10(-10) M had no detectable effect, 10(-9) M stimulated growth, and greater than or equal to 10(-8) M sharply inhibited proliferation. We also detected and quantitated the specific receptor for 1,25(OH)2D3 in HL-60 and HL-60 Blast, a sub-clone resistant to the growth and differentiation effects of 1,25(OH)2D3. The receptor in both lines was characterized as a DNA-binding protein that migrated at 3.3S on high-salt sucrose gradients. Unequivocal identification was provided by selective dissociation of the 1,25(OH)2D3-receptor complex with the mercurial reagent, p-chloromercuribenzenesulfonic acid, and by a shift in its sedimentation position upon complexing with anti-receptor monoclonal antibody. On the basis of labeling of whole cells with 1,25(OH)2[3H]D3 in culture, we found that HL-60 contains approximately 4,000 1,25(OH)2D3 receptor molecules per cell, while the nonresponsive HL-60 Blast is endowed with approximately 8% of that number. The concentration of 1,25(OH)2D3 (5 X 10(-9) M) in complete culture medium, which facilitates the saturation of receptors in HL-60 cells, is virtually identical to the ED50 for the sterol's induction of differentiation. This correspondence, plus the resistance of the relatively receptor-poor HL-60 Blast, indicates that 1,25(OH)2D3-induced differentiation of HL-60 cells to monocytes/macrophages is occurring via receptor-mediated events.

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