Clozapine is an effective antipsychotic for treatment-resistant schizophrenia, but can cause fatal hematopoietic toxicity as agranulocytosis. To elucidate the mechanism of hematopoietic toxicity induced by clozapine, we developed an in vitro assay system using HL-60 cells, and investigated the effect on hematopoiesis. HL-60 cells were differentiated by all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) into three states according to the following hematopoietic process: undifferentiated HL-60 cells, those undergoing granulocytic ATRA-differentiation, and ATRA-differentiated granulocytic cells. Hematopoietic toxicity was evaluated by analyzing cell survival, cell proliferation, granulocytic differentiation, apoptosis, and necrosis. In undifferentiated HL-60 cells and ATRA-differentiated granulocytic cells, both clozapine (50 and 100 μM) and doxorubicin (0.2 µM) decreased the cell survival rate, but olanzapine (1–100 µM) did not. Under granulocytic differentiation for 5 days, clozapine, even at a concentration of 25 μM, decreased survival without affecting granulocytic differentiation, increased caspase activity, and caused apoptosis rather than necrosis. Histamine H4 receptor mRNA was expressed in HL-60 cells, whereas the expression decreased under granulocytic ATRA-differentiation little by little. Both thioperamide, a histamine H4 receptor antagonist, and DEVD-FMK, a caspase-3 inhibitor, exerted protection against clozapine-induced survival rate reduction, but not of live cell counts. 4-Methylhistamine, a histamine H4 receptor agonist, decreased the survival rate and live cell counts, as did clozapine. HL-60 cells under granulocytic differentiation are vulnerable under in vitro assay conditions to hematopoietic toxicity induced by clozapine. Histamine H4 receptor is involved in the development of clozapine-induced hematopoietic toxicity through apoptosis, and may be a potential target for preventing its occurrence through granulocytic differentiation.
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