Mitochondria as target to inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis of cancer cells: the effects of doxycycline and gemcitabine

Sci Rep. 2020 Mar 9;10(1):4363. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-61381-9.


Doxycycline has anti-tumour effects in a range of tumour systems. The aims of this study were to define the role mitochondria play in this process and examine the potential of doxycycline in combination with gemcitabine. We studied the adenocarcinoma cell line A549, its mitochondrial DNA-less derivative A549 ρ° and cultured fibroblasts. Treatment with doxycycline for 5 days resulted in a decrease of mitochondrial-encoded proteins, respiration and membrane potential, and an increase of reactive oxygen species in A549 cells and fibroblasts, but fibroblasts were less affected. Doxycycline slowed proliferation of A549 cells by 35%. Cellular ATP levels did not change. Doxycycline alone had no effect on apoptosis; however, in combination with gemcitabine given during the last 2 days of treatment, doxycycline increased caspase 9 and 3/7 activities, resulting in a further decrease of surviving A549 cells by 59% and of fibroblasts by 24% compared to gemcitabine treatment alone. A549 ρ° cells were not affected by doxycycline. Key effects of doxycycline observed in A549 cells, such as the decrease of mitochondrial-encoded proteins and surviving cells were also seen in the cancer cell lines COLO357 and HT29. Our results suggest that doxycycline suppresses cancer cell proliferation and primes cells for apoptosis by gemcitabine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Respiration / drug effects
  • Cell Respiration / genetics
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • DNA Copy Number Variations
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Deoxycytidine / pharmacology
  • Doxycycline / pharmacology*
  • Gemcitabine
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects
  • Glycolysis
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Deoxycytidine
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Doxycycline
  • Gemcitabine