Purpose: Hemiasterlin, hemiasterlin A and hemiasterlin B are newly isolated cytotoxic tripeptides with potential as antitumor drugs. We wished to determine their mechanism of cytotoxicity.
Methods: We studied their effect on cell survival, cell cycle progression, and microtubule morphology in MCF-7 human mammary carcinoma cells.
Results: At the nanomolar concentrations at which they were cytotoxic, the peptides induced arrest in mitotic metaphase. Hemiasterlin A produced abnormal mitotic spindles like those produced by the microtubule inhibitors taxol, nocodazole and vinblastine at low concentrations. At high concentrations hemiasterlin A did not cause microtubule bundling like taxol, but caused microtubule depolymerization like nocodazole and vinblastine.
Conclusions: The hemiasterlins probably exert their cytotoxic effect by inhibiting spindle microtubule dynamics.