Mitochondria-targeted hydroxyurea inhibits OXPHOS and induces antiproliferative and immunomodulatory effects

iScience. 2021 May 31;24(6):102673. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2021.102673. eCollection 2021 Jun 25.


Hydroxyurea (HU), an FDA-approved drug for treating sickle cell disease, is used as an antitumor drug alone and together with conventional chemotherapeutics or radiation therapy. HU is used primarily to treat myeloproliferative diseases because it inhibits the enzyme ribonucleotide reductase involved in DNA synthesis. The hydroxyl group in HU is considered critical for its antiproliferative and chemotherapeutic effects. Here, we substituted the hydroxyl group in HU with a triphenylphosphonium cation attached to an alkyl group with different chain lengths, forming a new class of mitochondria-targeted HU (Mito-HU). Elongating the alkyl side chain length increased the hydrophobicity of Mito-HUs, inhibition of oxidative phosphorylation, and antiproliferative effects in tumor cells. Both mitochondrial complex I- and complex III-induced oxygen consumption decreased with the increasing hydrophobicity of Mito-HUs. The more hydrophobic Mito-HUs also potently inhibited the monocytic myeloid-derived suppressor cells and suppressive neutrophils, and stimulated T cell response, implicating their potential antitumor immunomodulatory mechanism.

Keywords: Biological sciences; Drugs; Immunology; Organic chemistry.