Desferal inhibits breast tumor growth and does not interfere with the tumoricidal activity of doxorubicin

Free Radic Biol Med. 2005 Aug 1;39(3):403-11. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2005.03.029. Epub 2005 Apr 12.


Desferal is a clinically approved iron chelator used to treat iron overload. Doxorubicin is an anthracycline cancer chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of breast cancer. It can undergo redox cycling in the presence of iron to produce reactive oxygen species. The oxidant-generating activity of doxorubicin is thought to be responsible for the cardiotoxic side effects of the drug, but it is unclear whether it is also required for its anti-tumor activity. To test whether an iron-chelating antioxidant would interfere with the tumor-killing activity of doxorubicin, nude mice were transplanted with xenografts of human breast cancer MDA-MB 231 cells and then treated with doxorubicin and/or desferal. Not only did desferal not interfere with the anti-tumor activity of doxorubicin, it inhibited tumor growth on its own. In vitro studies confirmed that desferal inhibits breast tumor growth. However, it did not induce apoptosis, nor did it induce cell cycle arrest. Instead, desferal caused cytostasis, apparently through iron depletion. The cytostatic activity of desferal was partially ameliorated by pretreatment with iron-saturated transferrin, and transferrin receptor expression on breast cancer cells nearly doubled after exposure to desferal. In contrast to its effect on tumor cells, desferal did not inhibit growth of normal breast epithelial cells. The data indicate that the anti-tumor activity of doxorubicin is not dependent on iron-mediated ROS production. Furthermore, desferal may have utility as an adjunctive chemotherapy due to its ability to inhibit breast tumor growth and cardiotoxic side effects without compromising the tumor-killing activity of an anthracycline chemotherapy drug.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Deferoxamine / pharmacology*
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron Chelating Agents / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Receptors, Transferrin / drug effects
  • Receptors, Transferrin / metabolism


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Iron Chelating Agents
  • Receptors, Transferrin
  • Doxorubicin
  • Deferoxamine