Organic cadmium complexes as proteasome inhibitors and apoptosis inducers in human breast cancer cells

J Inorg Biochem. 2013 Jun;123:1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2013.02.004. Epub 2013 Feb 21.


Although cadmium (Cd) is a widespread environmental contaminant and human carcinogen, our studies indicate an organic Cd complex to be a potent inhibitor of proteasomal chymotrypsin-like (CT-like) activity, further capable of inducing apoptosis in a cancer cell-specific manner. It has been reported that the ligands indole-3-butyric acid (L1) and indole-3-propionic acid (L2) have cancer-fighting effects when tested in a rat carcinoma model. In addition, 3, 5-diaminobenzoic acid o-vanillin Schiff bases (L3) have high antimicrobial activity and a large number of Schiff base complexes have been reported to have proteasome-inhibitory activity. We therefore hypothesized that synthetic forms of Cd in combination with L1, L2 and L3 may have proteasome-inhibitory and apoptosis-inducing activities, which would be cancer cell-specific. To test this hypothesis, we have synthesized three novel Cd-containing complexes: [Cd2(C12H12O2N)4(H2O)2]·2H2O (Cd1), [Cd2(C11H10O2N)4(H2O)2]·2H2O (Cd2) and [Cd(C7H4N2O2)(C8H6O2)2]·2H2O (Cd3), by using these three ligands. We sought out to characterize and assess the proteasome-inhibitory and anti-proliferative properties of these three Cd complexes in human breast cancer cells. Cd1, Cd2 and Cd3 were found to effectively inhibit the chymotrypsin-like activity of purified 20S proteasome with IC50 values of 2.6, 3.0 and 3.3 μΜ, respectively. Moreover, inhibition of cancer cell proliferation also correlated with this effect. As a result of proteasomal shutdown, the accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins and the proteasome target IκB-α protein as well as induction of apoptosis were observed. To account for the cancer specificity of this effect, immortalized, non-tumorigenic breast MCF10A cells were used under the same experimental conditions. Our results indicate that MCF10A cells are much less sensitive to the Cd1, Cd2 and Cd3 complexes when compared to MDA MB 231 breast cancer cells. Therefore, our study suggests that these Cd organic complexes are capable of inhibiting tumor cellular proteasome activity and consequently induce cancer cell-specific apoptotic death.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Cadmium Compounds / chemical synthesis
  • Cadmium Compounds / chemistry
  • Cadmium Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Proteasome Inhibitors / chemical synthesis
  • Proteasome Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Proteasome Inhibitors / pharmacology*


  • Cadmium Compounds
  • Proteasome Inhibitors