Disulfiram, a clinically used anti-alcoholism drug and copper-binding agent, induces apoptotic cell death in breast cancer cultures and xenografts via inhibition of the proteasome activity

Cancer Res. 2006 Nov 1;66(21):10425-33. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-06-2126.

Abstract

Disulfiram (DSF), a member of the dithiocarbamate family capable of binding copper and an inhibitor of aldehyde dehydrogenase, is currently being used clinically for the treatment of alcoholism. Recent studies have suggested that DSF may have antitumor and chemosensitizing activities, although the detailed molecular mechanisms remain unclear. Copper has been shown to be essential for tumor angiogenesis processes. Consistently, high serum and tissue levels of copper have been found in many types of human cancers, including breast, prostate, and brain, supporting the idea that copper could be used as a potential tumor-specific target. Here we report that the DSF-copper complex potently inhibits the proteasomal activity in cultured breast cancer MDA-MB-231 and MCF10DCIS.com cells, but not normal, immortalized MCF-10A cells, before induction of apoptotic cancer cell death. Furthermore, MDA-MB-231 cells that contain copper at concentrations similar to those found in patients, when treated with just DSF, undergo proteasome inhibition and apoptosis. In addition, when administered to mice bearing MDA-MB-231 tumor xenografts, DSF significantly inhibited the tumor growth (by 74%), associated with in vivo proteasome inhibition (as measured by decreased levels of tumor tissue proteasome activity and accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins and natural proteasome substrates p27 and Bax) and apoptosis induction (as shown by caspase activation and apoptotic nuclei formation). Our study shows that inhibition of the proteasomal activity can be achieved by targeting tumor cellular copper with the nontoxic compound DSF, resulting in selective apoptosis induction within tumor cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Chymotrypsin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Disulfiram / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Proteasome Inhibitors*
  • Transplantation, Heterologous

Substances

  • Proteasome Inhibitors
  • Copper
  • Chymotrypsin
  • Disulfiram