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Mol Pharmacol. 2000 Jul;58(1):71-81.

Acetyl-boswellic acids are novel catalytic inhibitors of human topoisomerases I and IIalpha.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology of Natural Products and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Ulm, Germany.


Acetyl-boswellic acids (acetyl-BA) are pentacyclic triterpenes derived from the gum resin of frankincense. We have previously shown that these compounds are effective cytotoxic agents, acting through a mechanism that appears to involve the inhibition of topoisomerase activity. We have now investigated the mechanism of action of acetyl-BA and show that these compounds are more potent inhibitors of human topoisomerases I and IIalpha than camptothecin, and amsacrine or etoposide, respectively. Our data demonstrate that acetyl-BA and, to a lesser extent, some other pentacyclic triterpenes, such as betulinic acid, ursolic acid, and oleanolic acid, inhibit topoisomerases I and IIalpha through a mechanism that does not involve stabilization of the cleavable complex or the intercalation of DNA. Surface plasmon resonance analysis revealed that topoisomerases I and IIalpha bind directly to an immobilized derivative of acetyl-BA. This acetyl-BA derivative interacts with human topoisomerases through high-affinity binding sites yielding K(D) values of 70.6 nM for topoisomerase I and 7.6 nM for topoisomerase IIalpha. Based on our data, we propose that acetyl-BA inhibit topoisomerases I and IIalpha through competition with DNA for binding to the enzyme. Thus, acetyl-BA are a unique class of dual catalytic inhibitors of human topoisomerases I and IIalpha.

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