Deuterium oxide (D2O) induces early stress response gene expression and impairs growth and metastasis of experimental malignant melanoma

Jana Jandova, Anh B. Hua, Jocelyn Fimbres, Georg T. Wondrak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


There are two stable isotopes of hydrogen, protium (1H) and deuterium (2H; D). Cellular stress response dysregulation in cancer represents both a major pathological driving force and a promising therapeutic target, but the molecular consequences and potential therapeutic impact of deuterium (2H)-stress on cancer cells remain largely unexplored. We have examined the antiproliferative and apoptogenic effects of deuterium oxide (D2O; ‘heavy water’) together with stress response gene expression profiling in panels of malignant melanoma (A375V600E, A375NRAS, G361, LOX-IMVI), and pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PANC-1, Capan-2, or MIA PaCa-2) cells with inclusion of human diploid Hs27 skin fibroblasts. Moreover, we have examined the efficacy of D2Obased pharmacological intervention in murine models of human melanoma tumor growth and metastasis. D2O-induction of apoptosis was substantiated by AV-PI flow cytometry, immunodetection of PARP-1, and pro-caspase 3 cleavage, and rescue by pan-caspase inhibition. Differential array analysis revealed early modulation of stress response gene expression in both A375 melanoma and PANC-1 adenocarcinoma cells elicited by D2O (90%; ≤6 h) (upregulated: CDKN1A, DDIT3, EGR1, GADD45A, HMOX1, NFKBIA, or SOD2 (up to 9-fold; p < 0.01)) confirmed by independent RT-qPCR analysis. Immunoblot analysis revealed rapid onset of D2O-induced stress response phospho-protein activation (p-ERK, p-JNK, p-eIF2α, or p-H2AX) or attenuation (p- AKT). Feasibility of D2O-based chemotherapeutic intervention (drinking water (30% w/w)) was demonstrated in a severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mouse melanoma metastasis model using luciferase-expressing A375-Luc2 cells. Lung tumor burden (visualized by bioluminescence imaging) was attenuated by D2O, and inhibition of invasiveness was also confirmed in an in vitro Matrigel transwell invasion assay. D2O supplementation also suppressed tumor growth in a murine xenograft model of human melanoma, and median survival was significantly increased without causing adverse effects. These data demonstrate for the first time that systemic D2O administration impairs growth and metastasis of malignant melanoma through the pharmacological induction of deuterium (2H)-stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number605
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2 2021


  • A375 melanoma xenograft model
  • A375-luciferase reporter cells
  • Cellular stress response
  • Deuterium oxide
  • Heavy water
  • Malignant melanoma
  • SCID mouse metastasis model
  • Transwell invasion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Deuterium oxide (D2O) induces early stress response gene expression and impairs growth and metastasis of experimental malignant melanoma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this