Elimination of stem-like cancer cell side-population by auranofin through modulation of ROS and glycolysis

Cell Death Dis. 2018 Jan 24;9(2):89. doi: 10.1038/s41419-017-0159-4.


Cancer side-population (SP) represents a sub-population of stem-like cancer cells that have an important role in drug resistance due to their high expression of the ATP-binding cassette transporter ABCG2 involved in drug export. Auranofin (AF), a clinical drug of gold complex that is used in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, has been reported inducing tumor antiproliferation. However, whether AF can impact SP cells remains unclear. Our study showed that AF caused a depletion of SP cells and a downregulation of stem cell markers, and impaired their ability to form tumor colonies in vitro and incidence to develop tumors in vivo of lung cancer cells. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) had an important role in mediating AF-induced depletion of SP cells, which could be reversed by antioxidant NAC. Further study revealed that AF could also cause ATP depletion by inhibition of glycolysis. The depletion of cellular ATP might impair the function of ABCG2 pump, leading to increased drug accumulation within the cells and thus enhancing anticancer activity of chemotherapeutic agents such as adriamycin. Synergistic effect of AF and adriamycin was demonstrated both in vitro and in vivo. Simultaneous increase of ROS and inhibition of glycolysis is a novel strategy to eliminate stem-like cancer cells. Combination of AF with adriamycin seems to be promising to enhance therapeutic effectiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Auranofin / pharmacology*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / drug effects
  • Carcinogenesis / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Deoxyglucose / metabolism
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology
  • Drug Synergism
  • Glycolysis / drug effects*
  • Hexokinase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Side-Population Cells / drug effects
  • Side-Population Cells / metabolism
  • Side-Population Cells / pathology*
  • Spheroids, Cellular / drug effects
  • Spheroids, Cellular / metabolism
  • Spheroids, Cellular / pathology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Auranofin
  • Doxorubicin
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Deoxyglucose
  • Hexokinase