PloS one

Repositioning of Verrucosidin, a purported inhibitor of chaperone protein GRP78, as an inhibitor of mitochondrial electron transport chain complex I.

PMID 23755268


Verrucosidin (VCD) belongs to a group of fungal metabolites that were identified in screening programs to detect molecules that preferentially kill cancer cells under glucose-deprived conditions. Its mode of action was proposed to involve inhibition of increased GRP78 (glucose regulated protein 78) expression during hypoglycemia. Because GRP78 plays an important role in tumorigenesis, inhibitors such as VCD might harbor cancer therapeutic potential. We therefore sought to characterize VCD's anticancer activity in vitro. Triple-negative breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-468 were treated with VCD under different conditions known to trigger increased expression of GRP78, and a variety of cellular processes were analyzed. We show that VCD was highly cytotoxic only under hypoglycemic conditions, but not in the presence of normal glucose levels, and VCD blocked GRP78 expression only when glycolysis was impaired (due to hypoglycemia or the presence of the glycolysis inhibitor 2-deoxyglucose), but not when GRP78 was induced by other means (hypoxia, thapsigargin, tunicamycin). However, VCD's strictly hypoglycemia-specific toxicity was not due to the inhibition of GRP78. Rather, VCD blocked mitochondrial energy production via inhibition of complex I of the electron transport chain. As a result, cellular ATP levels were quickly depleted under hypoglycemic conditions, and common cellular functions, including general protein synthesis, deteriorated and resulted in cell death. Altogether, our study identifies mitochondria as the primary target of VCD. The possibility that other purported GRP78 inhibitors (arctigenin, biguanides, deoxyverrucosidin, efrapeptin, JBIR, piericidin, prunustatin, pyrvinium, rottlerin, valinomycin, versipelostatin) might act in a similar GRP78-independent fashion will be discussed.

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(−)-Arctigenin, ≥95% (LC/MS-ELSD)