DNA polymerase gamma inhibition by vitamin K3 induces mitochondria-mediated cytotoxicity in human cancer cells

Cancer Sci. 2008 May;99(5):1040-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2008.00771.x. Epub 2008 Feb 27.


Among the vitamin K (VK) compounds, VK3 exhibits distinct cytotoxic activity in cancer cells and is thought to affect redox cycling; however, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Here we demonstrate that VK3 selectively inhibits DNA polymerase (pol) gamma, the key enzyme responsible for mitochondrial DNA replication and repair. VK3 at 30 microM inhibited pol gamma by more than 80%, caused impairment of mitochondrial DNA replication and repair, and induced a significant increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS), leading to apoptosis. At a lower concentration (3 microM), VK3 did not cause a significant increase in ROS, but was able to effectively inhibit cell proliferation, which could be reversed by supplementing glycolytic substrates. The cytotoxic action of VK3 was independent of p53 tumor suppressor gene status. Interestingly, VK3 only inhibited pol gamma but did not affect other pol including human pol alpha, pol beta, pol delta, and pol epsilon. VK1 and VK2 exhibited no inhibitory effect on any of the pol tested. These data together suggest that the inhibition of pol gamma by VK3 is relatively specific, and that this compound seems to exert its anticancer activity by two possible mechanisms in a concentration-dependent manner: (1) induction of ROS-mediated cell death at high concentrations; and (2) inhibition of cell proliferation at lower concentrations likely through the suppression of mitochondrial respiratory function. These findings may explain various cytotoxic actions induced by VK3, and may pave the way for the further use of VK3.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Cell Survival
  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / toxicity
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Nucleic Acid Synthesis Inhibitors*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Superoxides / metabolism
  • Superoxides / toxicity
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Vitamin K 3 / toxicity*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Nucleic Acid Synthesis Inhibitors
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxides
  • Vitamin K 3
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase