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Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2009 Aug;64(3):463-72. doi: 10.1007/s00280-008-0894-4. Epub 2008 Dec 24.

The xc- cystine/glutamate antiporter as a potential therapeutic target for small-cell lung cancer: use of sulfasalazine.

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Department of Cancer Endocrinology, BC Cancer Agency, Research Centre, Vancouver, BC, Canada.



To determine whether the xc- cystine transporter could be a useful therapeutic target for small-cell lung cancer (SCLC).


Human SCLC cell cultures were examined for growth dependence on extracellular cystine, xc- expression, glutathione levels and response to highly specific xc- inhibitors, i.e., monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the anti-inflammatory drug, sulfasalazine (SASP). In studying tumor growth inhibition by SASP, use was also made of a novel SCLC tissue xenograft model, LU6-SCLC, derived from a chemoresistant patient's SCLC specimen.


Growth of NCI-H69 and NCI-H82 SCLC cells greatly depended on xc- -mediated uptake of cystine. SASP substantially reduced their glutathione levels (>70%; 0.3 mM SASP; 24 h) and growth (72 h) with IC(50)s of 0.21 and 0.13 mM, respectively; MSG also inhibited growth markedly. Both SASP- and MSG-induced growth arrests were largely prevented by cystine uptake-enhancing 2-mercaptoethanol (66 approximately microM) indicating they were primarily due to cystine starvation. Without major side-effects, SASP (i.p.) restrained growth of NCI-H69 cell xenografts (approximately 50%) and, importantly, substantially inhibited growth of the clinically more relevant LU6-SCLC tissue xenografts (approximately 70% by stereological analysis), reducing tumor glutathione contents.


The xc- cystine/glutamate antiporter is potentially useful as a target for therapy of SCLC based on glutathione depletion. Sulfasalazine may be readily used for this approach, especially in combination chemotherapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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