Susceptibility of the antioxidant selenoenyzmes thioredoxin reductase and glutathione peroxidase to alkylation-mediated inhibition by anticancer acylfulvenes

Chem Res Toxicol. 2011 May 16;24(5):726-36. doi: 10.1021/tx2000152. Epub 2011 Apr 12.


Selenium, in the form of selenocysteine, is a critical component of some major redox-regulating enzymes, including thioredoxin reductase (TrxR) and glutathione peroxidase (Gpx). TrxR has emerged as an anticancer target for drug development due to its elevated expression level in many aggressive human tumors. Acylfulvenes (AFs) are semisynthetic derivatives of the natural product illudin S and display improved cytotoxic selectivity profiles. AF and illudin S alkylate cellular macromolecules. Compared to AFs, illudin S more readily reacts with thiol-containing small molecules such as cysteine, glutathione, and cysteine-containing peptides. However, a previous study indicates that the reactivity of AFs and illudin S with glutathione reductase, a thiol-containing enzyme, is inversely correlated with the reactivity toward small molecule thiols. In this study, we investigate mechanistic aspects underlying the enzymatic and cellular effects of the AFs and illudin S on thioredoxin reductase. Both AF and HMAF were found to inhibit mammalian TrxR in the low- to submicromolar range, but illudin S was significantly less potent. TrxR inhibition by AFs was shown to be irreversible, concentration- and time-dependent, and mediated by alkylation of C-terminus active site Sec/Cys residues. In contrast, neither AFs nor illudin S inhibits Gpx, demonstrating that enzyme structure-specific small molecule interactions have a significant influence over the inherent reactivity of the Sec residue. In human cancer cells, TrxR activity can be inhibited by low micromolar concentrations of all three drugs. Finally, it was demonstrated that preconditioning cells by the addition of selenite to the cell culture media results in an enhancement in cell sensitivity toward AFs. These data suggest potential strategies for increasing drug activity by combination treatments that promote selenium enzyme activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Agaricales / chemistry
  • Alkylation
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / metabolism*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Polycyclic Sesquiterpenes
  • Selenocysteine / metabolism
  • Sesquiterpenes / pharmacology
  • Spiro Compounds / pharmacology
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Polycyclic Sesquiterpenes
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Spiro Compounds
  • acylfulvene
  • Selenocysteine
  • Glutathione Peroxidase
  • Thioredoxin-Disulfide Reductase
  • illudin S
  • Cysteine