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1.  Selected Approaches for Rational Drug Design and High Throughput Screening to Identify Anti-Cancer Molecules 
Structure-based modeling combined with rational drug design, and high throughput screening approaches offer significant potential for identifying and developing lead compounds with therapeutic potential. The present review focuses on these two approaches using explicit examples based on specific derivatives of Gossypol generated through rational design and applications of a cancer-specific-promoter derived from Progression Elevated Gene-3. The Gossypol derivative Sabutoclax (BI-97C1) displays potent anti-tumor activity against a diverse spectrum of human tumors. The model of the docked structure of Gossypol bound to Bcl-XL provided a virtual structure-activity-relationship where appropriate modifications were predicted on a rational basis. These structure-based studies led to the isolation of Sabutoclax, an optically pure isomer of Apogossypol displaying superior efficacy and reduced toxicity. These studies illustrate the power of combining structure-based modeling with rational design to predict appropriate derivatives of lead compounds to be empirically tested and evaluated for bioactivity. Another approach to cancer drug discovery utilizes a cancer-specific promoter as readouts of the transformed state. The promoter region of Progression Elevated Gene-3 is such a promoter with cancer-specific activity. The specificity of this promoter has been exploited as a means of constructing cancer terminator viruses that selectively kill cancer cells and as a systemic imaging modality that specifically visualizes in vivo cancer growth with no background from normal tissues. Screening of small molecule inhibitors that suppress the Progression Elevated Gene-3-promoter may provide relevant lead compounds for cancer therapy that can be combined with further structure-based approaches leading to the development of novel compounds for cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3763986  PMID: 22931411
Progression Elevated Gene-3; Sabutoclax; Apogossypol; BI-97C1; Gossypol; AP-1; PEA3; ETV4; E1AF; c-fos; c-jun; Cancer Terminator Virus
2.  Enhanced delivery of mda-7/IL-24 using a serotype chimeric adenovirus (Ad.5/3) in combination with the Apogossypol derivative BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax) improves therapeutic efficacy in low CAR colorectal cancer cells 
Journal of Cellular Physiology  2012;227(5):2145-2153.
Adenovirus (Ad)-based gene therapy represents a potentially viable strategy for treating colorectal cancer. The infectivity of serotype 5 adenovirus (Ad.5), routinely used as a transgene delivery vector, is dependent on Coxsackie-adenovirus receptors (CAR). CAR expression is downregulated in many cancers thus preventing optimum therapeutic efficiency of Ad.5-based therapies. To overcome the low CAR problem, a serotype chimerism approach was used to generate a recombinant Ad (Ad.5/3) that is capable of infecting cancer cells via Ad.3 receptors in a CAR-independent manner. We evaluated the improved transgene delivery and efficacy of Ad.5/3 recombinant virus expressing melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24), an effective wide-spectrum cancer-selective therapeutic. In low CAR human colorectal cancer cells RKO, wild-type Ad.5 virus expressing mda-7/IL-24 (Ad.5-mda-7) failed to infect efficiently resulting in lack of expression of MDA-7/IL-24 or induction of apoptosis. However, a recombinant Ad.5/3 virus expressing mda-7/IL-24 (Ad.5/3-mda-7) efficiently infected RKO cells resulting in higher MDA-7/IL-24 expression and inhibition of cell growth both in vitro and in nude mice xenograft models. Addition of the novel Bcl-2 family pharmacological inhibitor Apogossypol derivative BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax) significantly augmented the efficacy of Ad.5/3-mda-7. A combination regimen of suboptimal doses of Ad.5/3-mda-7 and BI-97C1 profoundly enhanced cytotoxicity in RKO cells both in vitro and in vivo. Considering the fact that Ad.5-mda-7 has demonstrated significant objective responses in a Phase I clinical trial for advanced solid tumors, Ad.5/3-mda-7 alone or in combination with BI-97C1 would be predicted to exert significantly improved therapeutic efficacy in colorectal cancer patients.
PMCID: PMC3228880  PMID: 21780116
Viral gene therapy; Mcl-1 inhibition; apoptosis induction; anti-tumor activity
3.  Bortezomib induces apoptosis and growth suppression in human medulloblastoma cells, associated with inhibition of AKT and NF-ĸB signaling, and synergizes with an ERK inhibitor 
Cancer Biology & Therapy  2012;13(6):349-357.
Medulloblastoma is the most common brain tumor in children. Here, we report that bortezomib, a proteasome inhibitor, induced apoptosis and inhibited cell proliferation in two established cell lines and a primary culture of human medulloblastomas. Bortezomib increased the release of cytochrome c to cytosol and activated caspase-9 and caspase-3, resulting in cleavage of PARP. Caspase inhibitor (Z-VAD-FMK) could rescue medulloblastoma cells from the cytotoxicity of bortezomib. Phosphorylation of AKT and its upstream regulator mTOR were reduced by bortezomib treatment in medulloblastoma cells. Bortezomib increased the expression of Bad and Bak, pro-apoptotic proteins, and p21Cip1 and p27Kip1, negative regulators of cell cycle progression, which are associated with the growth suppression and induction of apoptosis in these tumor cells. Bortezomib also increased the accumulation of phosphorylated IĸBα, and decreased nuclear translocation of NF-ĸB. Thus, NF-ĸB signaling and activation of its downstream targets are suppressed. Moreover, ERK inhibitors or downregulating ERK with ERK siRNA synergized with bortezomib on anticancer effects in medulloblastoma cells. Bortezomib also inhibited the growth of human medulloblastoma cells in a mouse xenograft model. These findings suggest that proteasome inhibitors are potentially promising drugs for treatment of pediatric medulloblastomas.
PMCID: PMC3341212  PMID: 22313636
Apoptosis; brain tumor; JAK2; neuroblastoma; NFκB; proliferation; Sorafenib; STAT3
4.  Anti-angiogenic and anti-metastatic activity of JAK inhibitor AZD1480 
Cancer research  2011;71(21):6601-6610.
STAT3 has important functions in both tumor cells and the tumor microenvironment to facilitate cancer progression. The STAT regulatory kinase JAK has been strongly implicated in promoting oncogenesis of various solid tumors, including through the use of JAK kinase inhibitors such as AZD1480. However, direct evidence that JAK drives STAT3 function and cancer pathogenesis at the level of the tumor microenvironment has yet to be established clearly. In this study, we show that AZD1480 inhibits STAT3 in tumor-associated myeloid cells, reducing their number and inhibiting tumor metastasis. Myeloid cell-mediated angiogenesis was also diminished by AZD1480, with additional direct inhibition of endothelial cell function in vitro and in vivo. AZD1480 blocked lung infiltration of myeloid cells and formation of pulmonary metastases in both mouse syngeneic experimental and spontaneous metastatic models. Furthermore, AZD1480 reduced angiogenesis and metastasis in a human xenograft tumor model. Although the effects of AZD1480 on the tumor microenvironment were important for the observed anti-angiogenic activity, constitutive activation of STAT3 in tumor cells themselves could block these anti-angiogenic effects demonstrating the complexity of the JAK/STAT signaling network in tumor progression. Together, our results indicated that AZD1480 can effectively inhibit tumor angiogenesis and metastasis mediated by STAT3 in stromal cells as well as tumor cells.
PMCID: PMC3206173  PMID: 21920898
5.  Role of Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter-2 (EAAT2) and Glutamate in Neurodegeneration: Opportunities for Developing Novel Therapeutics 
Journal of Cellular Physiology  2011;226(10):2484-2493.
Glutamate is an essential excitatory neurotransmitter regulating brain functions. Excitatory amino acid transporter (EAAT)-2 is one of the major glutamate transporters expressed predominantly in astroglial cells and is responsible for 90% of total glutamate uptake. Glutamate transporters tightly regulate glutamate concentration in the synaptic cleft. Dysfunction of EAAT2 and accumulation of excessive extracellular glutamate has been implicated in the development of several neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Analysis of the 2.5-kb human EAAT2 promoter showed that NF-κB is an important regulator of EAAT2 expression in astrocytes. Screening of approximately 1,040 FDA-approved compounds and nutritionals led to the discovery that many β-lactam antibiotics are transcriptional activators of EAAT2 resulting in increased EAAT2 protein levels. Treatment of animals with ceftriaxone (CEF), a β-lactam antibiotic, led to an increase of EAAT2 expression and glutamate transport activity in the brain. CEF has neuroprotective effects in both in vitro and in vivo models based on its ability to inhibit neuronal cell death by preventing glutamate excitotoxicity. CEF increases EAAT2 transcription in primary human fetal astrocytes (PHFA) through the NF-κB signaling pathway. The NF-κB binding site at −272 position was critical in CEF-mediated EAAT2 protein induction. These studies emphasize the importance of transcriptional regulation in controlling glutamate levels in the brain. They also emphasize the potential utility of the EAAT2 promoter for developing both low and high throughput screening assays to identify novel small molecule regulators of glutamate transport with potential to ameliorate pathological changes occurring during and causing neurodegeneration.
PMCID: PMC3130100  PMID: 21792905
6.  Targeting Mcl-1 for the therapy of cancer 
Human cancers are genetically and epigenetically heterogeneous and have the capacity to commandeer a variety of cellular processes to aid in their survival, growth and resistance to therapy. One strategy is to overexpress proteins that suppress apoptosis, such as the Bcl-2 family protein Mcl-1. The Mcl-1 protein plays a pivotal role in protecting cells from apoptosis and is overexpressed in a variety of human cancers.
Areas covered
Targeting Mcl-1 for extinction in these cancers, using genetic and pharmacological approaches, represents a potentially effectual means of developing new efficacious cancer therapeutics. Here we review the multiple strategies that have been employed in targeting this fundamental protein, as well as the significant potential these targeting agents provide in not only suppressing cancer growth, but also in reversing resistance to conventional cancer treatments.
Expert Opinion
We discuss the potential issues that arise in targeting Mcl-1 and other Bcl-2 anti-apoptotic proteins, as well problems with acquired resistance. The application of combinatorial approaches that involve inhibiting Mcl-1 and manipulation of additional signaling pathways to enhance therapeutic outcomes is also highlighted. The ability to specifically inhibit key genetic/epigenetic elements and biochemical pathways that maintain the tumor state represent a viable approach for developing rationally based, effective cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3205956  PMID: 21851287
7.  Alkylation of cysteine 468 in Stat3 defines a novel site for therapeutic development 
ACS chemical biology  2011;6(5):432-443.
Stat3 is a latent transcription factor that promotes cell survival and proliferation and is often constitutively active in multiple cancers. Inhibition of Stat3 signaling pathways suppresses cell survival signals and leads to apoptosis in cancer cells, suggesting direct inhibition of Stat3 function is a viable therapeutic approach. Herein, we identify a small molecule, C48, as a selective Stat3-family member inhibitor. To determine its mechanism of action, we used site-directed mutagenesis and multiple biochemical techniques to show that C48 alkylates Cys468 in Stat3, a residue at the DNA-binding interface. We further demonstrate that C48 blocks accumulation of activated Stat3 in the nucleus in tumor cell lines that over-express active Stat3 leading to impressive inhibition of tumor growth in mouse models. Collectively, these findings suggest Cys468 in Stat3 represents a novel site for therapeutic intervention and demonstrates the promise of alkylation as a potentially effective chemical approach for Stat3-dependent cancers.
PMCID: PMC3098940  PMID: 21226522
Stat3; small molecule inhibitor; alkylation; cysteine; cancer; drug development
8.  Sorafenib induces growth arrest and apoptosis of human glioblastoma cells via dephosphorylation of STAT3 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2010;9(4):953-962.
Glioblastoma is the most common type of primary brain tumor and is rapidly progressive with few treatment options. Here, we report that sorafenib (≤ 10 μM) inhibited cell proliferation and induced apoptosis in two established cell lines (U87, U251) and two primary cultures (PBT015, PBT022) from human glioblastomas. Effects of sorafenib on these tumor cells were associated with inhibiting phosphorylated STAT3 (Tyr705). Expression of a constitutively activated STAT3 mutant partially blocked the effects of sorafenib, consistent with a role for STAT3 inhibition in the response to sorafenib. Phosphorylated JAK1 was inhibited in U87 and U251 cells, while phosphorylated JAK2 was inhibited in primary cultures. Sodium vanadate, a general inhibitor of protein tyrosine phosphatases, blocked the inhibition of phosphorylation of STAT3 (Tyr705) induced by sorafenib. These data indicate that the inhibition of STAT3 activity by sorafenib involves both inhibition of upstream kinases (JAK1 and JAK2) of STAT3 and increased phosphatase activity. Phosphorylation of AKT was also reduced by sorafenib. In contrast, MAPK were not consistently inhibited by sorafenib in these cells. Two key cyclins (D and E) and the anti-apoptotic protein Mcl-1 were down-regulated by sorafenib in both cell lines and primary cultures. Our data suggest that inhibition of STAT3 signaling by sorafenib contributes to growth arrest and induction of apoptosis in glioblastoma cells. These findings provide a rationale for potential treatment of malignant gliomas with sorafenib.
PMCID: PMC2852467  PMID: 20371721
Sorafenib; glioblastoma; STAT3; apoptosis; proliferation
9.  Sunitinib induces apoptosis and growth arrest of medulloblastoma tumor cells by inhibiting STAT3 and AKT signaling pathways 
Medulloblastomas are the most frequent malignant brain tumors in children. Sunitinib is an oral multitargeted tyrosine kinase inhibitor used in clinical trials as an antiangiogenic agent for cancer therapy. In this report, we demonstrate that sunitinib induced apoptosis and inhibited cell proliferation of both a short-term primary culture (VC312) and an established cell line (Daoy) of human medulloblastomas. Sunitinib treatment resulted in the activation of caspase-3 and cleavage of PARP, and upregulation of pro-apoptotic genes, Bak and Bim, as well as inhibiting expression of survivin, an anti-apoptotic protein. Sunitinib treatment also down-regulated cyclin E, D2 and D3, and up-regulated p21Cip1, all of which are involved in regulating cell cycle. In addition, it inhibited phosphorylation of Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3 (STAT3) and AKT (protein kinase B) in the tumor cells. De-phosphorylation of STAT3 (Tyr705) induced by sunitinib was contributed by a reduction in activities of JAK2 and Src. Additionally, sodium vanadate, an inhibitor of protein tyrosine phosphatases, partially blocked the inhibition of phosphorylated STAT3 by sunitinib. Loss of phosphorylated AKT after sunitinib treatment was accompanied by decreased phosphorylation of downstream proteins, GSK-3β and mTOR. Expression of a constitutively activated STAT3 mutant or myristoylated AKT partially blocked the effects of sunitinib in these tumor cells. Sunitinib also inhibited the migration of medulloblastoma tumor cells in vitro. These findings suggest that potential use of sunitinib for treatment of pediatric medulloblastomas.
PMCID: PMC2808420  PMID: 20053726
sunitinib; medulloblastoma; STAT3; AKT; apoptosis
10.  The JAK2 Inhibitor, AZD1480, Potently Blocks Stat3 Signaling and Oncogenesis in Solid Tumors 
Cancer cell  2009;16(6):487-497.
Persistent activation of Stat3 is oncogenic and is prevalent in a wide variety of human cancers. Chronic cytokine stimulation is associated with Stat3 activation in some tumors, implicating cytokine receptor-associated Jak family kinases. Using Jak2 inhibitors, we demonstrate a central role of Jaks in modulating basal and cytokine-induced Stat3 activation in human solid tumor cell lines. Inhibition of Jak2 activity is associated with abrogation of Stat3 nuclear translocation and tumorigenesis. The Jak2 inhibitor, AZD1480, suppresses the growth of human solid tumor xenografts harboring persistent Stat3 activity. We demonstrate the essential role of Stat3 downstream of Jaks by inhibition of tumor growth using shRNA targeting Stat3. Our data support a key role of Jak kinase activity in Stat3-dependent tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC2812011  PMID: 19962667
11.  Sorafenib inhibits STAT3 signaling associated with growth arrest and apoptosis of medulloblastomas 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2008;7(11):3519-3526.
Medulloblastomas are the most frequent malignant brain tumors in children. Sorafenib (Nexavar, BAY43-9006), a multi-kinase inhibitor, blocks cell proliferation and induces apoptosis in a variety of tumor cells. Sorafenib inhibited proliferation and induced apoptosis in two established cell lines (Daoy and D283) and a primary culture (VC312) of human medulloblastomas. In addition, sorafenib inhibited phosphorylation of Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3 (STAT3) in both cell lines and the primary tumor cells. The inhibition of phosphorylated STAT3 (Tyr705) occurs in a dose- and time-dependent manner. In contrast, AKT (protein kinase B) was only decreased in D283 and VC312 medulloblastoma cells and MAPKs (ERK1/2) were not inhibited by sorafenib in these cells. Both D-type cyclins (D1, D2, D3) and E-type cyclin were down-regulated by sorafenib. Also, expression of the anti-apoptotic protein Mcl-1, a member of the Bcl-2 family, was decreased and correlated with apoptosis induced by sorafenib. Finally, sorafenib suppressed the growth of human medulloblastoma cells in a mouse xenograft model. Together, our data demonstrate that sorafenib blocks STAT3 signaling as well as expression of cell cycle and apoptosis regulatory proteins, associated with inhibition of cell proliferation and induction of apoptosis in medulloblastomas. These findings provide a rationale for treatment of pediatric medulloblastomas with sorafenib.
PMCID: PMC2592687  PMID: 19001435
sorafenib; medulloblastoma; STAT3; apoptosis; proliferation

Results 1-11 (11)