Embelin inhibits endothelial mitochondrial respiration and impairs neoangiogenesis during tumor growth and wound healing

EMBO Mol Med. 2014 May;6(5):624-39. doi: 10.1002/emmm.201303016.


In the normal quiescent vasculature, only 0.01% of endothelial cells (ECs) are proliferating. However, this proportion increases dramatically following the angiogenic switch during tumor growth or wound healing. Recent evidence suggests that this angiogenic switch is accompanied by a metabolic switch. Here, we show that proliferating ECs increasingly depend on mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos) for their increased energy demand. Under growth conditions, ECs consume three times more oxygen than quiescent ECs and work close to their respiratory limit. The increased utilization of the proton motif force leads to a reduced mitochondrial membrane potential in proliferating ECs and sensitizes to mitochondrial uncoupling. The benzoquinone embelin is a weak mitochondrial uncoupler that prevents neoangiogenesis during tumor growth and wound healing by exhausting the low respiratory reserve of proliferating ECs without adversely affecting quiescent ECs. We demonstrate that this can be exploited therapeutically by attenuating tumor growth in syngenic and xenograft mouse models. This novel metabolic targeting approach might be clinically valuable in controlling pathological neoangiogenesis while sparing normal vasculature and complementing cytostatic drugs in cancer treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Benzoquinones / pharmacology*
  • Cell Respiration / drug effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic*
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic / drug effects*
  • Uncoupling Agents / pharmacology*
  • Uncoupling Agents / therapeutic use
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzoquinones
  • Uncoupling Agents
  • embelin