Progress in Copper Complexes as Anticancer Agents
Redouane Tabti1,2, Nassera Tounsi1, Christian Gaiddon3, Embarek Bentouhami2* and Laurent Désaubry1,4*
1Laboratory of Therapeutic Innovation (UMR 7200), Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Strasbourg - CNRS, Illkirch, France
2Faculty of Technology, University Ferhat Abbas, Sétif, Algeria
3UMR_S 1113, Molecular Mechanisms of Stress Response and Pathologies, INSERM, Strasbourg, France
4Sino-French Joint Lab of Food Nutrition/Safety and Medicinal Chemistry, College of Biotechnology, Tianjin University of Science and Technology, Tianjin, 300457, China
- *Corresponding Author:
- Laurent Désaubry
Laboratory of Therapeutic Innovation (UMR 7200)
Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Strasbourg - CNRS, Illkirch,
E-mail: [email protected]
Faculty of Technology
University Ferhat Abbas, Sétif, Algeria,
E-mail: [email protected]
Received date: May 02, 2017; Accepted date: May 09, 2017; Published date: May 15, 2017
Citation: Tabti R, Tounsi N, Gaiddon C, Bentouhami E, Désaubry L (2017) Progress in Copper Complexes as Anticancer Agents. Med Chem (Los Angeles) 7: 139-143. doi: 10.4172/2161-0444.1000445
Copyright: © 2017 Tabti R, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under
the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted
use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and
source are credited.
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The clinical success of cisplatin has stimulated the quest for novel anticancer metallodrugs during the last two decades. A major emphasis has been put on copper due to its selective cytotoxicity toward malignant cells. This selectivity stems from the hypoxic environment of cancer cells that promotes the reduction of Cu(II) to Cu(I), leading a pro-apoptotic oxidative stress. At the current time, two copper complexes have reached clinical assay, which paves the road to the first copper-based anticancer therapeutics.
Cancer; Copper; Cu-complexes; Metallodrugs; Oxidative
The advent of targeted therapies, i.e., small molecules or antibodies that interfere with signaling proteins involved in the etiology of cancer,
revolutionized the treatment of tumors with an addiction to specific
oncogenes (e.g., ALK in lung cancer, Bcr-Abl in chronic myeloid
leukemia, KIT in GIST, EGFR in lung cancer, HER2 in breast cancer
or MET in liver tumors). However, for many cancers, the progressionfree
survival of patients treated with targeted therapy is less than
one year, which justify for a regain of interest in cytotoxic agents
including metallodrugs . Indeed, the prevalent success of cisplatin
in the treatment of various types of cancers has placed organometallic
compounds on the forefront in the development of anticancer drugs.
In this quest, copper derivatives hold promising opportunities due to
opportunities provided by the hypoxic environment that is a hallmark of
cancer cells coupled with the ability of copper complexes to catalyze the
formation of Reactive Oxygen and Nitrogen species (ROS and RNS) .
Role of Copper in Physiology and in Cancer Physiology
Tumors display a lack of blood vessels that results in a low oxygen
level, which promotes invasion, metastasis and a metabolic shift to an
anaerobic process known as the 'Warburg effect' . Gratefully, tumor
hypoxia can be exploited to develop prodrugs that become activated
in the reducing environment of cancer cells. In this regard, copper is
very appealing because it can exist under two different oxidation states
in cells. The anoxic character of cancer cells promotes the reduction of
Cu(II) to Cu(I), which is not possible in normal cells and thus provides
a therapeutic opportunity to target tumors . Cu(I) can catalyze
the formation of ROS and RNS, to induce a pro-apoptotic oxidative
stress. In addition, the redox state of copper modulates its affinity to
ligands: copper(I) is a softer Lewis acid than copper(II) and displays
a high affinity toward sulfur ligands, whereas copper(II) preferentially
coordinates to nitrogen and oxygen donors in proteins and DNA .
Not only copper salts are much less toxic than platinum derivatives,
but they are necessary to the organism. Indeed, the physiological concentration of copper in the body is highly regulated by several
mechanisms that involve ceruloplasmin and albumin in the liver to
regulate blood levels and also copper transporter proteins (CTR1 and
Cu ATP7A/B) at the cellular level . Due to its ability to oscillates
between oxidized and reduced states in biological medium, copper
acts as a co-factor for enzymes involved in energy metabolism (cyt. C oxidase), destruction of ROS (superoxide dismutase 1), melanin synthesis (tyrosinase), dopamine synthesis (dopamine-β-
hydroxylase), cross-linking of collagen and elastin (lysyl oxidase).
However, an excess of copper may be toxic also to non-cancer cells
due to the generation of ROS and NOS, which explains why copper
homeostasis is highly regulated (Table 1) [5-31]. Importantly, many
types of tumors accumulate abnormally high concentrations of
copper, and the concentration of copper in serum is almost doubled
in breast cancer patients [32-36]. These observations may be explained
by the involvement of copper in tumor growth and survival through
several mechanisms. First, copper is essential to angiogenesis, which
is necessary for tumor growth and metastasis. More precisely, copper
sulfate induces the expression of HIF-1α, the G-protein estrogen
receptor (GPER) and VEGF in breast and hepatic cancer cells through
the activation of the EGFR/ERK/c-fos pathway . Second, copper
inhibits the apoptosis of cancer cells by binding to the XIAP protein
to promote its anti-apoptotic activity [38,39]. Third, copper interacts
with MEK1 to promote the phosphorylation of ERK and oncogenesis
[40,41]. Fourth, coper activates the pro-survival phosphoinositide
3'-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathway [42,43].
||Type of rodents/type of tumor/anticancer effect (dose)
||Adult Swiss female albino mice/ EAC cells/ increase in life span of 86% (100 mg.kg-1.d-1 p.o. for 9 days).
|Nude mice/ HCT116 cells/ inhibition of tumor growth: of 95 % (5 mg.kg-1. d-1 i.p. for 7 days).
|Male transgenic adenocarcinoma of the mouse prostate (TRAMP) model/ significant reduction (∼70%) in the weight of their genitourinary tracts (2.5 mg.kg-1.d-1).
|Female nude mice / HeLa cells/ reduction in tumor volume of 3.8-fold (7.5 mg.kg-1.d-1 i.p 7 days).
|Albinos swiss mice/ EAC cells/ increase in life span of 61% (50 mg.kg-1.d-1 i.p. for 5 days).
|Albinos swiss mice/ EAC cells/ increase in life span of 42% (50 mg.kg-1.d-1 i.p. for 5 days).
|Male BALB/c nude mice/ Human acute monocytic sarcoma/ 69% inhibition of tumor growth (6 mg.kg-1.d-1 every other day for 6 weeks; benchmarking: 37 % for 0.5 mg.kg-1.d-1 of cisplatin).
|Male C57BL-6 mice/ B16-F10 melanoma/ 87 % inhibition of tumor growth (45 mg.kg-1.d-1 every other day for 3 weeks; benchmarking: 80 % for 0.5 mg.kg-1.d-1 of cisplatin).
|Female athymic nude mice/ HL-60/ optimal (% T/C)d: 42%/ (3 mg.kg-1.d-1. i.p. for 5 days) (MTD=15 mg.kg-1 i.v and 10 mg.kg-1 i.p.).
|Female BALB/c mice/ A549 cells/ reduction of tumour growth > 50% (0.78 μmol Cu kg-1 every 2 days for 26 days).
|Female nude mice/ COLO 357 cells/ significant reduction of tumour growth and NF-ĸB activity (25 mg.kg-1 i.v. once every 2 days for 10 days).
||BALB/c mice/ DL (106) cells/ increase of lifespan of 267% (10 mg.kg-1 i.p.) (benchmarking: 150 % for cisplatin).
|C3H/J female mice/ breast-tumor/ increase of lifespan of 125 % ( mg.kg-1 i.p., 1 injection).
|Adult Swiss female albino mice/ EAC cells/ increase in life span of 120% (100 mg.kg-1.d-1 p.o. for 9 days).
|Swiss albino mice/ Ehrlich ascites carcinoma/ increase in life span of 52% (50 mg.kg-1 i.p., 6 injections).
|BDFl mice/ P388S/ increase in life span of 56 % (200 mg.kg-1 i.p., 3 injections).
|Dba mice/ Dalton’s Lymphoma/ increase in tumor-free survivors: 65 % (25 mg.kg-1 i.p., 1 injection).
|Wistar rats/ C6 glioblastoma/ significant antiproliferative activity, minimal toxicity (4 mg.kg-1.d-1 i.p. for 2 weeks).
|BDF1mice/ P388 leukemia/ increase in lifetime of 64% (10 mg.kg-1.i.p, 1 injection; LD50 = 40 mg.kg-1, LD10=10 mg.kg-1).
|Female C57BL/6 mice / breast adenocarcinoma 755/ inhibition of tumor growth: 73 % (24 mg.kg-1.d-1 i.p. for 5 days).
||Male BALB/c/nude mice/ HepG2 cells/ tumor inhibition rate: 66% (4 mg. kg-1 i.p. for 3 weeks).
|Male nude mice/ HCT-15 cells/ inhibition of tumor growth (6 mg.kg-1 i.p. one dose each 4 days, 6 doses
|Wister Albino rats/mammary carcinoma/ inhibition of tumor growth (4.3 mg.kg-1i.p. 5 injections).
|Norwegian rat/ breast tumor/ reduction of tumor growth superior to that of cisplatin.
|DBA/2 mice / P388 leukemia/ increase in life span of 26% (19 mg.kg-1 i.p., 1 single injection) (LD50=48 mg.kg-1).
|DBA/2J male mice/L1210 leukemia cells/ increase in life span of 23% (10 mg.kg-1, 2 i.p. injections).
|C3H/He mice/Sarcoma-180/ increase in life span of 12% (25.0 mg.kg-1, 1 i.p. injection).
|Mice/P388 Leukemia/ increase in life span of 100% (2 µmol.kg-1).
|C57BL mice/ LLC cell / inhibition of tumor growth: 78% / (25 mg·kg−1.d-1 i.p. for 1 week).
Table 1: Copper complexes that display antitumor effects in mouse models of cancers.
Anticancer Copper Complexes
Except for the complexes that are based on the anticancer natural
product Paullone (Figure 1) , a majority of the cytotoxic Cu
complexes were originally designed for their chemical and physical
properties . As a consequence, many of them do not exhibit druglike
properties and significant anticancer effects in vivo.
Figure 1: Representative examples of cytotoxic paullone analogues
conjugated to Cu(II) .
The synthesis, design, and development of copper complexes as
anticancer agents have been presented in several reviews over the last
decade [45-52]. We focus therein on the in vivo anticancer activity of
this type of drugs and include recent advances, which were not covered by previous review. By focusing on in vivo data, we aim at providing a
critical overview of the most promising anticancer copper complexes.
On the opposite of classical anticancer drugs that display a high
selectivity for their molecular target, copper complexes affect DNA and
a myriad of proteins to induce a general toxicity that is lethal to cancer
cells. Due to its ability to participate in redox reactions, copper is able
to produce large amounts of ROS through a Fenton-like reaction to
damage DNA and proteins .
Over the last two decades, copper complexes have consolidated
their place in medicinal chemistry, which is manifested by an increased
number of compounds that showed their efficacy in animal models of
cancers (Table 1). Two of these drugs have been examined in clinical trial
(Figure 2). The first one, elesclomol, synthesized as complex with Cu(II),
has entered a phase I clinical trial to treat acute myeloid leukemia where
it displayed a very favorable safety profile, but unfortunately no clinical
results at the maximal evaluated dose of 400 mg/m2 . This drug has
also been examined in a phase II trial against ovarian, fallopian, and
peritoneal cancers . Importantly, it was demonstrated to exert its
anticancer activity as a complex with Cu(I), indicating that elesclomol
is in fact a prodrug [55,56]. Regarding its mechanism of action, it seems
to be similar to other cytotoxic copper chelating compounds based
on a NCI COMPARE analysis . Elesclomol binds to Cu(II) in the
serum, which get reduced to Cu(I) once inside cancer cells, where it induces DNA double strand breaks and catalyzes the formation of ROS
in a larger amount that in non-cancer cells, explaining why this drug is
more cytotoxic to malignant cells than to normal ones [57,58].
Figure 2: Cu(II) Elesclomol (1), Casiopeínas IIIia and II-Gly (2 et 3).
Another drug, Casiopeína IIIia has also entered a phase I clinical
trial against acute myeloid leukemia . This agent induces DNA
fragmentation and base oxidation, indicating that its mode of action
involves reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation after copper
reduction. Recently, Hernández-Lemus and coll. used transcriptomic
approaches and pathway analysis tools to demonstrate that a novel
analogue that is ready to start clinical phase I, Casiopeína II-Gly,
enhances the metabolism of metal ions and block the migration and
proliferation of HeLa cells . A similar approach was recently
used to identify metabolic signaling pathways deregulated by a novel
ruthenium organometallic compound with interesting anticancer
properties . These works illustrate well how advanced techniques
in metalloproteomics and system biology are expected to enlighten the
mechanism of action of metallodrugs in a close future .
Preclinical and clinical studies have gathered encouraging evidences to
endorse the therapeutic potential of copper complexes. The main benefit
of copper complexes lies on their ability to be selectively reduced as Cu(I)
complexes in malignant cells to induce cell death. The goal is now to
move from compounds that were originally designed for their catalytic or
physical properties to more drug-like compounds that display improved in
vivo pharmacological properties. One of the challenges to develop this class
of drugs is to deal with the complexity of their mechanism of action that
does not involved a single molecular target. Thanks to the development
of new technologies to explore the effects on every signaling pathway,
this limitation is under implementation and we expect that more drug
candidates will be soon examined in clinical trials.
This work was supported by the “Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer”
(ARC) and “Campus France” for a Tassili fellowship to RT.
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