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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 24;104(30):12288-93. Epub 2007 Jul 18.

Targeting thioredoxin reductase is a basis for cancer therapy by arsenic trioxide.

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  • 1Medical Nobel Institute for Biochemistry, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institute, SE-17177 Stockholm, Sweden.


Arsenic trioxide (ATO) is an effective cancer therapeutic drug for acute promyelocytic leukemia and has potential anticancer activity against a wide range of solid tumors. ATO exerts its effect mainly through elevated oxidative stress, but the exact molecular mechanism remains elusive. The thioredoxin (Trx) system comprising NADPH, thioredoxin reductase (TrxR), and Trx and the glutathione (GSH) system composed of NADPH, glutathione reductase, and GSH supported by glutaredoxin are the two electron donor systems that control cellular proliferation, viability, and apoptosis. Recently, the selenocysteine-dependent TrxR enzyme has emerged as an important molecular target for anticancer drug development. Here, we have discovered that ATO irreversibly inhibits mammalian TrxR with an IC(50) of 0.25 microM. Both the N-terminal redox-active dithiol and the C-terminal selenothiol-active site of reduced TrxR may participate in the reaction with ATO. The inhibition of MCF-7 cell growth by ATO was correlated with irreversible inactivation of TrxR, which subsequently led to Trx oxidation. Furthermore, the inhibition of TrxR by ATO was attenuated by GSH, and GSH depletion by buthionine sulfoximine enhanced ATO-induced cell death. These results strongly suggest that the ATO anticancer activity is by means of a Trx system-mediated apoptosis. Blocking cancer cell DNA replication and repair and induction of oxidative stress by the inhibition of both Trx and GSH systems are suggested as cancer chemotherapeutic strategies.

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