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Mol Cancer Ther. 2007 Jun;6(6):1814-22.

Flex-Hets differentially induce apoptosis in cancer over normal cells by directly targeting mitochondria.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK 73104, USA.


Flex-Het drugs induce apoptosis in multiple types of cancer cells, with little effect on normal cells. This apoptosis occurs through the intrinsic mitochondrial pathway accompanied by generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The objective of this study was to determine if direct or indirect targeting of mitochondria is responsible for the differential sensitivities of cancer and normal cells to Flex-Hets. Mitochondrial effects and apoptosis were measured using JC-1 and Annexin V-FITC dyes with flow cytometry. Bcl-2, Bcl-x(L), and Bax were measured by Western blot. Flex-Hets induced mitochondrial swelling and apoptosis in ovarian cancer cell lines but had minimal to no effects in a variety of normal cell cultures, including human ovarian surface epithelium. Effects on inner mitochondrial membrane (IMM) potential were variable and did not occur in normal cells. Two different antioxidants, administered at concentrations shown to quench intracellular and mitochondrial ROS, did not alter Flex-Het-induced mitochondrial swelling, loss of IMM potential, or apoptosis. Inhibition of protein synthesis with cycloheximide also did not prevent Flex-Het mitochondrial or apoptosis effects. Bcl-2 and Bcl-x(L) levels were decreased in an ovarian cancer cell line but increased in a normal culture, whereas Bax expression was unaffected by Flex-Hets treatment. In conclusion, ROS seems to be a consequence rather than a cause of mitochondrial swelling. The differential induction of apoptosis in cancer versus normal cells by Flex-Hets involves direct targeting of mitochondria associated with alterations in the balance of Bcl-2 proteins. This mechanism does not require IMM potential, ROS generation, or protein synthesis.

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