Chemotherapy-induced thrombocytopenia derives from the selective death of megakaryocyte progenitors and can be rescued by stem cell factor

Ann Zeuner, Michele Signore, Daniela Martinetti, Monica Bartucci, Cesare Peschle, Ruggero De Maria Marchiano

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Thrombocytopenia is a common side effect of chemotherapy, responsible for increased risk of bleeding and delay of treatment schedules in cancer patients. It is currently unknown how chemotherapeutic agents affect platelet production and whether the platelet precursors megakaryocytes represent a direct target of cytotoxic drugs. We investigated the effects of chemotherapeutic agents on primary megakaryocytes by using a culture system that recapitulates in vitro human megakaryopoiesis and found that cytotoxic drugs predominantly destroyed megakaryocytic progenitors at early stages of differentiation. Immature megakaryocytes could be protected from chemotherapeutic agents by the cytokine stem cell factor (SCF), which binds the c-kit receptor expressed on hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. In chemotherapy-treated megakaryocytes, SCF activated Akt, neutralized the mitochondrial apoptotic machinery, and inhibited caspase activity. Interfering with Akt activation abrogated the anti-apoptotic effects of SCF, whereas exogenous expression of constitutively active Akt inhibited drug-induced apoptosis of primary megakaryocytes, indicating the Akt pathway as primarily responsible for SCF-mediated protection of megakaryocyte progenitors. These results indicate apoptosis of megakaryocyte progenitors as a major cause of chemotherapy-induced thrombocytopenia and suggest that SCF may be used to prevent platelet loss in cancer patients with c-kit-negative tumors. ©2007 American Association for Cancer Research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4767-4773
Number of pages7
JournalCancer Research
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Adult
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Apoptosis
  • Cancer Research
  • Cisplatin
  • Cytarabine
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Erythroid Precursor Cells
  • Humans
  • Megakaryocytes
  • Oncology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit
  • Stem Cell Factor
  • Thrombocytopenia
  • Vincristine


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