Sequence-selective DNA binding drugs mithramycin A and chromomycin A3 are potent inhibitors of neuronal apoptosis induced by oxidative stress and DNA damage in cortical neurons

Ann Neurol. 2001 Mar;49(3):345-54.


Global inhibitors of RNA or protein synthesis such as actinomycin D or cycloheximide abrogate neuronal apoptosis induced by numerous pathological stimuli in vitro and in vivo. The clinical application of actinomycin D or cycloheximide to human neurological disease has been limited by the toxicities of these agents. To overcome these toxicities, strategies must be developed to inhibit selectively the expression of deleterious proapoptotic proteins, while leaving the expression of antiapoptotic, proregeneration, and other critical homeostatic proteins unperturbed. Mithramycin A (trade name Plicamycin) is an aureolic acid antibiotic that has been used in humans to treat hypercalcemia and several types of cancers. This class of agents is believed to act, in part, by selectively inhibiting gene expression by displacing transcriptional activators that bind to G-C-rich regions of promoters. Here we demonstrate that mithramycin A and its structural analog chromomycin A3 are potent inhibitors of neuronal apoptosis induced by glutathione depletion-induced oxidative stress or the DNA-damaging agent camptothecin. We correlate the protective effects of mithramycin A with its ability to inhibit enhanced DNA binding of the transcription factors Sp1 and Sp3 to their cognate "G-C" box induced by oxidative stress or DNA damage. The protective effects of mithramycin A cannot be attributed to global inhibition of protein synthesis. Together, these results suggest that mithramycin A and its structural analogs may be effective agents for the treatment of neurological diseases associated with aberrant activation of apoptosis and highlight the potential use of sequence-selective DNA-binding drugs as neurological therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Base Sequence
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Chromomycin A3 / metabolism*
  • DNA Damage / drug effects*
  • Electrophoresis / methods
  • Microscopy, Phase-Contrast
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Plicamycin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Plicamycin / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • mithramycin A
  • Chromomycin A3
  • Plicamycin