D-Penicillamine targets metastatic melanoma cells with induction of the unfolded protein response (UPR) and Noxa (PMAIP1)-dependent mitochondrial apoptosis

Shuxi Qiao, Christopher M. Cabello, Sarah D. Lamore, Jessica L. Lesson, Georg T. Wondrak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


D-Penicillamine (3,3-dimethyl-D-cysteine; DP) is an FDA-approved redox-active D-cysteine-derivative with antioxidant, disulfide-reducing, and metal chelating properties used therapeutically for the control of copper-related pathology in Wilson's disease and reductive cystine- solubilization in cystinuria. Based on the established sensitivity of metastatic melanoma cells to pharmacological modulation of cellular oxidative stress, we tested feasibility of using DP for chemotherapeutic intervention targeting human A375 melanoma cells in vitro and in vivo. DP treatment induced caspase-dependent cell death in cultured human metastatic melanoma cells (A375, G361) without compromising viability of primary epidermal melanocytes, an effect not observed with the thiol-antioxidants N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) and dithiothreitol. Focused gene expression array analysis followed by immunoblot detection revealed that DP rapidly activates the cytotoxic unfolded protein response (UPR; involving phospho-PERK, phospho-eIF2a, Grp78, CHOP, and Hsp70) and the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis with p53 upregulation and modulation of Bcl-2 family members (involving Noxa, Mcl-1, and Bcl-2). DP (but not NAC) induced oxidative stress with early impairment of glutathione homeostasis and mitochondrial transmembrane potential. SiRNA-based antagonism of PMAIP1 expression blocked DP-induced upregulation of the proapoptotic BH3-only effector Noxa and prevented down-regulation of the Noxa-antagonist Mcl-1, rescuing melanoma cells from DP-induced apoptosis. Intraperitoneal administration of DP displayed significant antimelanoma activity in a murine A375 xenograft model. It remains to be seen if melanoma cell-directed induction ofUPR and apoptosis using DPor improved DP-derivatives can be harnessed for future chemotherapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1079-1094
Number of pages16
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Apoptosis
  • D-Penicillamine
  • Mcl-1
  • Metastatic melanoma
  • Noxa (PMAIP1)
  • Unfolded protein response (UPR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Cancer Research


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