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J Neurochem. 2009 Jul;110(1):182-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.06129.x. Epub 2009 Apr 29.

Sulfasalazine inhibits the growth of primary brain tumors independent of nuclear factor-kappaB.

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Department of Neurobiology & Center for Glial Biology in Medicine, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama 35294-0021, USA.


Nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) is a pleiotropic transcription factor that generally enhances cellular resistance to apoptotic cell death. It has been shown to be constitutively active in some cancers and is being pursued as potential anticancer target. Sulfasalazine which is used clinically to treat Crohn's disease has emerged as a potential inhibitor of NF-kappaB and has shown promising results in two pre-clinical studies to target primary brain tumors, gliomas. Once digested, sulfasalazine is cleaved into sulfapyridine and 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA; mesalamine) by colonic bacteria, and the latter, too, is reported to suppress NF-kappaB activity. We now show that glioma cells obtained from patient biopsies or glioma cell lines do not show significant constitutive NF-kappaB activation, unless exposed to inflammatory cytokines. This does not change when gliomas are implanted into the cerebrum of severe combined immun-deficient mice. Nevertheless, sulfasalazine but not its cleaved form 5-ASA caused a dose-dependent inhibition of glioma growth. This effect was entirely attributable to the inhibition of cystine uptake via the system x(c)(-) cystine-glutamate transporter. It could be mimicked by S-4-carboxy-phenylglycine (S-4-CPG) a more specific system x(c)(-) inhibitor, and lentiviral expression of a constitutively active form of IkappaB kinase b was unable to overcome the growth retarding effects of sulfasalazine or S-4-CPG. Both drugs inhibited cystine uptake causing a chronic depletion of intracellular GSH and consequently compromised cellular redox defense which stymied tumor growth. This data suggests that system x

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