Bisimidazoacridones induce a potent cytostatic effect in colon tumor cells that sensitizes them to killing by UCN-01

Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2001 Mar;47(3):241-9. doi: 10.1007/s002800000234.


Purpose: To determine the ability of WMC26, a prototypic bisimidazoacridone (BIA), to induce apoptosis in sensitive colon adenocarcinoma cells and to advance the hypothesis that cancer cells that are growth-arrested by WMC26 are predisposed to undergo apoptotic death by abrogators of cell cycle checkpoints.

Methods: The antiproliferative activity of WMC26 was examined in detail by a 4-day MTT assay, cell counting, BrdU incorporation and a two-color LIVE/DEAD assay. To detect apoptosis a number of established techniques were used, including gel electrophoresis, flow cytometry, and confocal laser microscopy of treated cells. The activity of senescence-associated beta-galactosidase in treated cells was also analyzed.

Results: WMC26, at physiological concentrations, induced complete and longlasting growth arrest of HCT116 cells in culture but did not trigger cell death. The growth-arrested cells (blocked at G1 and G2/M cell cycle checkpoints) did not synthesize DNA but were metabolically active and had intact plasma membranes. Although they resembled the senescence-like phenotype reported to be induced by treatment with some antitumor agents, the cells did not express senescence-associated beta-galactosidase, an indicator of the senescence-like state. Treatment of WMC26 growth-arrested cells with 1 microM UCN-01, an abrogator of the G2/M checkpoint, caused a very rapid (1 h) change in morphology and cell death within 72 h.

Conclusions: BIAs do not induce apoptosis in sensitive colon tumor cells. They are highly cytostatic but only marginally toxic to the cells even at concentrations 100-fold higher than those sufficient for complete growth arrest. In this respect WMC26 differs from some other DNA-interacting antitumor agents that produce cell growth arrest at low concentrations but are toxic at higher doses. The complete growth arrest induced by WMC26 in colon cancer cells sensitized them to apoptotic death induced by UCN-01. This finding suggests that a combination of WMC26 and cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors may be an attractive treatment method for colon cancer that utilizes the highly tumor-selective activity of WMC26.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / drug therapy*
  • Adenocarcinoma / enzymology
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Aminoacridines / pharmacology*
  • Aminoacridines / therapeutic use
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bromodeoxyuridine / metabolism
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Death / drug effects*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Coloring Agents
  • Humans
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • beta-Galactosidase / metabolism


  • Aminoacridines
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Coloring Agents
  • WMC 26
  • beta-Galactosidase
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases
  • Bromodeoxyuridine