The tumor necrosis factor (TNF) exhibits a multitude of activities depending on the type of target cells. We characterized the cytostatic and cytotoxic effects of recombinant TNF, alone and in combination with actinomycin D (AMD), on the human leukemic cell line HL-60. Because HL-60 cells, when triggered to monocytic differentiation by phorbol esters, are known to produce and secrete TNF, their sensitivity to the factor could indicate an autocrine function of TNF in this cell system. Indeed, HL-60 cells were affected by TNF; their doubling time was increased by about 50% and progression through the cell cycle was perturbed. Initially, (up to 8 h) TNF induced a temporary arrest in G2 while later (24–48 h) it delayed progression through the G1 phase. Also, a transient increase in RNA content peaking at 6–8 h was apparent. The cytotoxicity of TNF alone was low. Thus, TNF may be involved in the regulation of the cell cycle of HL-60 cells during early stages of their differentiation.

The cytotoxicity of TNF was markedly potentiated in the presence of AMD; the effect was AMD but not TNF concentration-dependent. Whereas at 20 and 50 ng/ml of AMD alone nonviable cells did not exceed 20% during the first 24 h of treatment, their proportion increased to 80 and 90%, respectively, in the presence of TNF. The most sensitive were cells in the S phase of the cell cycle. The observed synergistic effect of TNF and AMD does not appear to be caused by the action of TNF increasing the permeability of the cell membrane to AMD. The results indicate that HL-60 cells, ordinarily resistant to the cytotoxic action of TNF, can be rendered sensitive by treatment with AMD. This implies that a combination of TNF and AMD may be considered in oncology for treatment of tumors otherwise nonresponding to TNF alone.