Respiratory status determines the effect of emodin on cell viability.

PMID 28415582


The anthraquinone emodin has been shown to have antineoplastic properties and a wealth of unconnected effects have been linked to its use, most of which are likely secondary outcomes of the drug treatment. The primary activity of emodin on cells has remained unknown. In the present study we demonstrate dramatic and extensive effects of emodin on the redox state of cells and on mitochondrial homeostasis, irrespectively of the cell type and organism, ranging from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to human cell lines and primary cells. Emodin binds to redox-active enzymes and its effectiveness depends on the oxidative and respiratory status of cells. We show that cells with efficient respiratory metabolism are less susceptible to emodin, whereas cells under glycolytic metabolism are more vulnerable to the compound. Our findings indicate that emodin acts in a similar way as known uncouplers of the mitochondrial electron transport chain and causes oxidative stress that particularly disturbs cancer cells.