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J Med Chem. 2004 Dec 30;47(27):6914-20.

Disulfiram facilitates intracellular Cu uptake and induces apoptosis in human melanoma cells.

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Department of Medicine, University of California-Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-2025, USA.


The alcohol-abuse deterrent disulfiram (DSF) is shown to have a highly selective toxicity against melanoma in culture, inducing a largely apoptotic response, with much lower toxicity against several other cell lines. Melanoma cell lines derived from different stages (radial, vertical, and metastatic phase) were all sensitive to DSF treatment in vitro; melanocytes were only slightly affected. A required role of extracellular Cu is demonstrated for DSF toxicity. Low concentrations of DSF alone decreased the number of viable cells, and the addition of CuCl(2) significantly enhanced the DSF-induced cell death to less than 10% of control. Significantly, the intracellular Cu concentration of melanoma cells increased rapidly upon DSF treatment. Both the intracellular Cu uptake and the toxicity induced by DSF were blocked by co-incubation with bathocuproine disulfonic acid (BCPD, 100 muM), a non-membrane-permeable Cu chelator. Chemical studies demonstrated a complicated, extracellular redox reaction between Cu(II) and DSF, which forms the complex Cu(deDTC)(2) in high yield, accompanied by oxidative decomposition of small amounts of disulfiram. The Cu complex has somewhat higher activity against melanoma and is suggested to be the active agent in DSF-induced toxicity. The redox conversion of DSF was unique to Cu(II) and not engendered by the other common biological metal ions Fe(II or III), Mn(III), and Zn(II). The implications of this work are significant both in the possible treatment of melanoma as well as in limiting the known side-effects of DSF, which we propose may be diminished by cotreatment to decrease adventitious Cu.

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