Selective estrogen receptor modulator delivery of quinone warheads to DNA triggering apoptosis in breast cancer cells

Kuan Wei Peng, Huali Wang, Zhihui Qin, Gihani T. Wijewickrama, Meiling Lu, Zhican Wang, Judy L. Bolton, Gregory R.J. Thatcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Estrogen exposure is a risk factor for breast cancer, and estrogen oxidative metabolites have been implicated in chemical carcinogenesis. Oxidation of the catechol metabolite of estrone (4-OHE) and the β- naphthohydroquinone metabolite of equilenin (4-OHEN) gives o-quinones that produce ROS and damage DNA by adduction and oxidation. To differentiate hormonal and chemical carcinogensis pathways in estrogen receptor positive ER(+) cells, catechol or β-naphthohydroquinone warheads were conjugated to the selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) desmethylarzoxifene (DMA). ER binding was retained in the DMA conjugates; both were antiestrogens with submicromolar potency in mammary and endometrial cells. Cytotoxicity, apoptosis, and caspase-3/7 activation were compared in ER(+) and ER(-)MDA-MB-231 cells, and production of ROS was detected using a fluorescent reporter. Comparison was made to DMA, isolated warheads, and a DMA-mustard. Conjugation of warheads to DMA increased cytotoxicity accompanied by induction of apoptosis and activation of caspase-3/7. Activation of caspase-3/7, induction of apoptosis, and cytotoxicity were all increased significantly in ER(+) cells for the DMA conjugates. ROS production was localized in the nucleus for conjugates in ER(+) cells. Observations are compatible with β-naphthohydroquinone and catechol groups being concentrated in the nucleus by ER binding, where oxidation and ROS production result, concomitant with caspase-dependent apoptosis. The results suggest that DNA damage induced by catechol estrogen metabolites can be amplified in ER(+) cells independent of hormonal activity. The novel conjugation of quinone warheads to an ER-targeting SERM gives ER-dependent, enhanced apoptosis in mammary cancer cells of potential application in cancer therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1039-1049
Number of pages11
JournalACS Chemical Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 18 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine


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