Intracellular reduction/activation of a disulfide switch in thiosemicarbazone iron chelators

Eman A. Akam, Tsuhen M. Chang, Andrei V. Astashkin, Elisa Tomat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Iron scavengers (chelators) offer therapeutic opportunities in anticancer drug design by targeting the increased demand for iron in cancer cells as compared to normal cells. Prochelation approaches are expected to avoid systemic iron depletion as chelators are liberated under specific intracellular conditions. In the strategy described herein, a disulfide linkage is employed as a redox-directed switch within the binding unit of an antiproliferative thiosemicarbazone prochelator, which is activated for iron coordination following reduction to the thiolate chelator. In glutathione redox buffer, this reduction event occurs at physiological concentrations and half-cell potentials. Consistent with concurrent reduction and activation, higher intracellular thiol concentrations increase cell susceptibility to prochelator toxicity in cultured cancer cells. The reduction of the disulfide switch and intracellular iron chelation are confirmed in cell-based assays using calcein as a fluorescent probe for paramagnetic ions. The resulting low-spin Fe(iii) complex is identified in intact Jurkat cells by EPR spectroscopy measurements, which also document a decreased concentration of active ribonucleotide reductase following exposure to the prochelator. Cell viability and fluorescence-based assays show that the iron complex presents low cytotoxicity and does not participate in intracellular redox chemistry, indicating that this antiproliferative chelation strategy does not rely on the generation of reactive oxygen species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1905-1912
Number of pages8
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Metals and Alloys


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