Targeted methylation facilitates DNA double strand breaks and enhances cancer suppression: A DNA intercalating/methylating dual-action chimera Amonafidazene

Eur J Med Chem. 2021 Dec 5:225:113811. doi: 10.1016/j.ejmech.2021.113811. Epub 2021 Aug 31.


A DNA intercalating agent Amonafide interferes with topoisomerase 2 (Topo II) activity and prevents re-ligation of DNA strands, leading to double strand breaks (DSB). If DSB repair fails, cells stop dividing and eventually die. In a search of approaches to enhance anti-cancer activities of Topo II inhibitors, we hypothesized that introduction of additional damage in proximity to the DSB may suppress DNA repair and enhance cancer cell killing. Accordingly, chimeric molecules were created that target a DNA alkylating component to the proximity of Topo II-induced DSBs. These chimeras consist of Amonafide or its 4-amino isomer, and DNA methylating methyl triazene moiety Azene protected with a carbamate group, connected via linker. Treatment of cancer cells with the chimeric molecules leads to significantly higher number of DSBs, which were repaired slower compared to Amonafide or monomethyl triazene-treated cells. On the other hand, methyl triazene linked to non-intercalating Amonafide analogs was ineffective. Together, these data strongly support our hypothesis. In line with increased DSBs, the chimeric molecules exhibited significantly higher antiproliferative activity in cancer cell lines compared to Amonafide or monomethyl triazene constituent Azene. We utilized the fluorescent properties of chimera Amonafidazene to develop ''photo-switchable'' reporting system to monitor the prodrug activation. Using this approach, we found that the chimera accumulated and was activated at the tumor sites specifically and demonstrated significantly stronger tumor suppressing activities compared to Amonafide in a xenograft model. Therefore, targeting alkylating groups to the proximity of DSB sites may become an effective approach towards enhancing anti-cancer activities of inhibitors of topoisomerases.

Keywords: Amonafide; Anticancer; DNA double Strand break; DNA methylation; Molecular chimera; O(6)-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase.

MeSH terms

  • Adenine / chemical synthesis
  • Adenine / chemistry
  • Adenine / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemical synthesis
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded / drug effects
  • DNA Repair
  • DNA, Neoplasm / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylation
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Molecular Structure
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Organophosphonates / chemical synthesis
  • Organophosphonates / chemistry
  • Organophosphonates / pharmacology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Organophosphonates
  • amonafide
  • Adenine