- Low calcemic analogs of vitamin D are candidates for differentiation therapy of human myeloid leukemias. We report here that the seco-steroid synthesized to have resistance to intracellular degradation and low calcemia-inducing activity, 1alpha-hydroxymethyl-3beta-16-ene-24,24-difluoro-25-hydroxy-vitamin D(3) (JKF), induces monocytic differentiation in four established human myeloid leukemia cell lines, HL60, U937, THP-1, NB-4, and murine myeloid leukemia cells WEHI-3B D(-). JKF has differentiation-inducing potency which is slightly lower than the physiologically active form of vitamin D, 1,25(OH)(2)vitamin D(3) (1,25D). However, simultaneous addition of carnosic acid (CA), an antioxidant, and SB20190 (SB), an inhibitor of p38MAP kinase, increases the differentiation efficiency of JKF to a level similar to the level observed when 1,25D is used in such combinations. We also show for the first time that SB inhibits the phosphorylation of MAPKAPK2, a downstream target of p38MAPK, but upregulates the phosphorylation of at least one of the isoforms of JNK (p46 JNK1) and of c-jun in all four human myeloid cell lines studied here. These studies indicate that the JNK1 pathway is positively associated with monocytic differentiation of several subtypes of myeloid leukemia cells arrested at different developmental stages. Further, since JKF is less calcemic than 1,25D, the data suggest that JKF combined with CA and SB is likely to have a therapeutic advantage over 1,25D-based experimental regimens for myeloid leukemias.