Potential use of cetrimonium bromide as an apoptosis-promoting anticancer agent for head and neck cancer

Mol Pharmacol. 2009 Nov;76(5):969-83. doi: 10.1124/mol.109.055277. Epub 2009 Aug 4.


A potential therapeutic agent for human head and neck cancer (HNC), cetrimonium bromide (CTAB), was identified through a cell-based phenotype-driven high-throughput screen (HTS) of 2000 biologically active or clinically used compounds, followed by in vitro and in vivo characterization of its antitumor efficacy. The preliminary and secondary screens were performed on FaDu (hypopharyngeal squamous cancer) and GM05757 (primary normal fibroblasts), respectively. Potential hit compounds were further evaluated for their anticancer specificity and efficacy in combination with standard therapeutics on a panel of normal and cancer cell lines. Mechanism of action, in vivo antitumor efficacy, and potential lead compound optimizations were also investigated. In vitro, CTAB interacted additively with gamma radiation and cisplatin, two standard HNC therapeutic agents. CTAB exhibited anticancer cytotoxicity against several HNC cell lines, with minimal effects on normal fibroblasts; a selectivity that exploits cancer-specific metabolic aberrations. The central mode of cytotoxicity was mitochondria-mediated apoptosis via inhibition of H(+)-ATP synthase activity and mitochondrial membrane potential depolarization, which in turn was associated with reduced intracellular ATP levels, caspase activation, elevated sub-G(1) cell population, and chromatin condensation. In vivo, CTAB ablated tumor-forming capacity of FaDu cells and delayed growth of established tumors. Thus, using an HTS approach, CTAB was identified as a potential apoptogenic quaternary ammonium compound possessing in vitro and in vivo efficacy against HNC models.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Cetrimonium
  • Cetrimonium Compounds / pharmacology
  • Cetrimonium Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, SCID
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays / methods


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cetrimonium Compounds
  • Cetrimonium