A physiological feature of many tumor tissues and cells is the tendency to accumulate high concentrations of copper. While the precise role of copper in tumors is cryptic, copper, but not other trace metals, is required for angiogenesis. We have recently reported that organic copper-containing compounds, including 8-hydroxyquinoline-copper(II) and 5,7-dichloro-8-hydroxyquinoline-copper(II), comprise a novel class of proteasome inhibitors and tumor cell apoptosis inducers. In the current study, we investigate whether clioquinol (CQ), an analog of 8-hydroxyquinoline and an Alzheimer's disease drug, and pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate (PDTC), a known copper-binding compound and antioxidant, can interact with copper to form cancer-specific proteasome inhibitors and apoptosis inducers in human breast cancer cells. Tetrathiomolybdate (TM), a strong copper chelator currently being tested in clinical trials, is used as a comparison.
Breast cell lines, normal, immortalized MCF-10A, premalignant MCF10AT1K.cl2, and malignant MCF10DCIS.com and MDA-MB-231, were treated with CQ or PDTC with or without prior interaction with copper, followed by measurement of proteasome inhibition and cell death. Inhibition of the proteasome was determined by levels of the proteasomal chymotrypsin-like activity and ubiquitinated proteins in protein extracts of the treated cells. Apoptotic cell death was measured by morphological changes, Hoechst staining, and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage.
When in complex with copper, both CQ and PDTC, but not TM, can inhibit the proteasome chymotrypsin-like activity, block proliferation, and induce apoptotic cell death preferentially in breast cancer cells, less in premalignant breast cells, but are non-toxic to normal/non-transformed breast cells at the concentrations tested. In contrast, CQ, PDTC, TM or copper alone had no effects on any of the cells. Breast premalignant or cancer cells that contain copper at concentrations similar to those found in patients, when treated with just CQ or PDTC alone, but not TM, undergo proteasome inhibition and apoptosis.