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Br J Pharmacol. 2014 Oct;171(19):4478-89. doi: 10.1111/bph.12800. Epub 2014 Sep 5.

Identification of an old antibiotic clofoctol as a novel activator of unfolded protein response pathways and an inhibitor of prostate cancer.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Medical College, Soochow University, Suzhou, China; Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.



Finding new indications for existing drugs, also known as drug repositioning or repurposing, is a powerful approach to accelerate drug discovery and development. The unfolded protein response pathways have been proposed to be a viable target for developing new anticancer drugs.


We screened the Johns Hopkins Drug Library for inhibitors of prostate cancer cell proliferation to identify new antiprostate cancer treatments among known drugs. We systematically investigated the mechanism underlying the anticancer activity of a hit and assessed its efficacy in blocking prostate tumour growth in a mouse model.


The antibacterial drug clofoctol was identified as a novel inhibitor of prostate cancer cell proliferation. Morphologically, cells treated with clofoctol were found to undergo massive vacuolization, reminiscent of endoplasmic reticulum stress. Indeed, all three unfolded protein response pathways including inositol requiring enzyme 1, double-stranded RNA-activated PK-like ER kinase and activating transcription factor 6 were found to be activated by clofoctol. Activation of unfolded protein response pathways by clofoctol led to the inhibition of protein translation in cells and the induction of G1 cell cycle arrest in prostate cancer cells. Clofoctol also inhibited prostate cancer xenograft growth in vivo without apparent toxicity.


Our findings revealed clofoctol as a novel activator of the unfolded protein response pathways and a promising inhibitor of prostate cancer. As clofoctol has been used in the clinic for years, it is ready for clinical evaluation as a novel antiprostate cancer drug candidate.

© 2014 The British Pharmacological Society.

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