Thrombopoietin (TPO), a major cytokine involved in megakaryocytopoiesis/thrombopoiesis, may be effective for treatment of the thrombocytopenia associated with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). However, it has been unclear whether TPO stimulates proliferation of MDS blasts, as observed in de novo acute myeloid leukemia. This study examined this concern. When marrow cells from 37 MDS cases were cultured with or without recombinant human PEGylated TPO, TPO increased the blast number (stimulation index ≥1.5) in 9 of 16 high-risk MDS cases (refractory anemia with excess blasts [RAEB] and RAEB in transformation) and 4 of 10 cases with MDS transformed to acute leukemia (MDS-AL), but none of 11 cases with low-risk MDS (RA and RA with ringed sideroblasts). When the cell cycle of cultured cells was determined by three-color flow cytometry, TPO activated the cell cycle of MDS cells (causing a decrease in Go-phase cells) in most of the cases whose blast number increased in response to TPO. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis detected TPO receptor messenger RNA in purified blasts from all six cases examined, irrespective of the response of their blasts to TPO in culture. Analysis of the patients' characteristics identified a high-serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) value as being associated with blast proliferation in high-risk MDS cases (p = 0.0036). We conclude that TPO stimulates in vitro proliferation of blasts from a fraction of MDS patients. High-risk MDS patients, especially those who have a high-serum LDH value, and MDS-AL patients should be monitored with particular care in clinical trials of TPO for MDS.
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