Cycloguanil and Analogues Potently Target DHFR in Cancer Cells to Elicit Anti-Cancer Activity

Metabolites. 2023 Jan 19;13(2):151. doi: 10.3390/metabo13020151.


Dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) is an established anti-cancer drug target whose inhibition disrupts folate metabolism and STAT3-dependent gene expression. Cycloguanil was proposed as a DHFR inhibitor in the 1950s and is the active metabolite of clinically approved plasmodium DHFR inhibitor Proguanil. The Cycloguanil scaffold was explored to generate potential cancer therapies in the 1970s. Herein, current computational and chemical biology techniques were employed to re-investigate the anti-cancer activity of Cycloguanil and related compounds. In silico modeling was employed to identify promising Cycloguanil analogues from NCI databases, which were cross-referenced with NCI-60 Human Tumor Cell Line Screening data. Using target engagement assays, it was found that these compounds engage DHFR in cells at sub-nanomolar concentrations; however, growth impairments were not observed until higher concentrations. Folinic acid treatment rescues the viability impairments induced by some, but not all, Cycloguanil analogues, suggesting these compounds may have additional targets. Cycloguanil and its most promising analogue, NSC127159, induced similar metabolite profiles compared to established DHFR inhibitors Methotrexate and Pyrimethamine while also blocking downstream signaling, including STAT3 transcriptional activity. These data confirm that Cycloguanil and its analogues are potent inhibitors of human DHFR, and their anti-cancer activity may be worth further investigation.

Keywords: STAT3; breast cancer; cancer therapy; cycloguanil; dihydrofolate reductase; folate metabolism; target engagement.