Analysis of cytotoxic activity at short incubation times reveals profound differences among Annonaceus acetogenins, inhibitors of mitochondrial Complex I

J Bioenerg Biomembr. 2013 Feb;45(1-2):145-52. doi: 10.1007/s10863-012-9490-8. Epub 2012 Nov 21.


Annonaceous acetogenins are potent cytotoxic agents against tumor cell lines as well as potent inhibitors of mitochondrial Complex I (Degli Esposti and Ghelli Biochim Biophys Acta 1187:116-120, 1994; Degli Esposti et al. Biochem J 301(Pt 1):161-167, 1994; Tormo et al. Arch Biochem Biophys 369:119-126, 1999). Eighteen different ACGs belonging to seven structural sub-families were tested against six tumor and two non tumor cell lines in a MTT cytotoxicity assay to evaluate the correlation between mitochondrial Complex I inhibition and cytotoxic activity potency and selectivity. The results showed a substantial heterogeneity in potency and selectivity among the different compounds tested, although no clear overall structure-activity relationships could be established. To further characterize the biological activity of these compounds, four ACGs were selected based on their inhibition binding sites to Complex I, to evaluate their cytotoxic activity over a 15-minute to 48-hour period using a more sensitive time-course LDH cytotoxicity assay. Our results indicate that, although all of the ACGs were highly cytotoxic in HepG2 cell lines at 24 h, each sub-class behaves rather differently at shorter times. Perhaps other aspects related to how these compounds reach or bind to their target sites, or differences in their ability to cross the cell and/or the mitochondrial membranes, could help explain their different activities. This different behavior between ACGs may provide new clues for a better understanding of their potential antitumor properties.

MeSH terms

  • Acetogenins / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cytotoxins / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Electron Transport Complex I / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Electron Transport Complex I / metabolism
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / enzymology*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Acetogenins
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cytotoxins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Electron Transport Complex I