High-throughput screen identifies disulfiram as a potential therapeutic for triple-negative breast cancer cells: interaction with IQ motif-containing factors

Cell Cycle. 2013 Sep 15;12(18):3013-24. doi: 10.4161/cc.26063. Epub 2013 Aug 12.


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) represents an aggressive subtype, for which radiation and chemotherapy are the only options. Here we describe the identification of disulfiram, an FDA-approved drug used to treat alcoholism, as well as the related compound thiram, as the most potent growth inhibitors following high-throughput screens of 3185 compounds against multiple TNBC cell lines. The average IC50 for disulfiram was ~300 nM. Drug affinity responsive target stability (DARTS) analysis identified IQ motif-containing factors IQGAP1 and MYH9 as direct binding targets of disulfiram. Indeed, knockdown of these factors reduced, though did not completely abolish, cell growth. Combination treatment with 4 different drugs commonly used to treat TNBC revealed that disulfiram synergizes most effectively with doxorubicin to inhibit cell growth of TNBC cells. Disulfiram and doxorubicin cooperated to induce cell death as well as cellular senescence, and targeted the ESA(+)/CD24(-/low)/CD44(+) cancer stem cell population. Our results suggest that disulfiram may be repurposed to treat TNBC in combination with doxorubicin.

Keywords: IQGAP1; MYH9; cancer stem cells; disulfiram; high-throughput screens; triple-negative breast cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • CD24 Antigen / genetics
  • CD24 Antigen / metabolism
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cellular Senescence / drug effects
  • Disulfiram / toxicity*
  • Doxorubicin / toxicity
  • Drug Synergism
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Female
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronan Receptors / metabolism
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / metabolism
  • Myosin Heavy Chains / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • ras GTPase-Activating Proteins / metabolism


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • CD24 Antigen
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Epithelial Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Hyaluronan Receptors
  • IQ motif containing GTPase activating protein 1
  • MYH9 protein, human
  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • ras GTPase-Activating Proteins
  • Doxorubicin
  • Myosin Heavy Chains
  • Disulfiram