Selective inhibition of in vitro synthesis of cancer DNA by alkaloids of beta-carboline class

Exp Cell Biol. 1982;50(2):79-87. doi: 10.1159/000163131.


The high template in vitro activity of native DNA from cancerous mammalian and plant tissues, compared to DNA from healthy tissues, enabled us to select substances which selectively inhibit cancer DNA synthesis. Among them, alstonine, serpentine, sempervirine and flavopereirine, all alkaloids which belong to the Beta-carboline class, distinguish cancer DNA from healthy tissue DNA inhibit DNA in vitro synthesis when native DNA from different cancerous tissues or cells is used as template. They have practically no effect on DNA from healthy tissues. The inhibitory effect of alkaloids is due to their capacity to form an 'alkaloid-cancer DNA' complex which has been characterized by use of the Sephadex column. Evidence is presented showing that these alkaloids inhibit the initiation of DNA synthesis but not chain elongation. The stimulating action caused by carcinogens during cancer DNA in vitro synthesis may be prevented and reversed by alkaloids. Furthermore, the stimulating action of steroids during in vitro synthesis of hormone target tissue DNA might be neutralized by alkaloids. However, at relatively high doses, steroids reversibly compete with alkaloids for binding sites on breast cancer DNA. This is not observed with DNA from nonhormone target tissues.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Carbolines / pharmacology*
  • DNA, Neoplasm / biosynthesis*
  • DNA, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Liver Neoplasms, Experimental / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Secologanin Tryptamine Alkaloids / pharmacology


  • Alkaloids
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Carbolines
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Indoles
  • Secologanin Tryptamine Alkaloids
  • serpentine (alkaloid)
  • sempervirine
  • flavopereirine