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J Biol Chem. 2009 Sep 4;284(36):24306-19. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.026583. Epub 2009 Jun 26.

The thioxotriazole copper(II) complex A0 induces endoplasmic reticulum stress and paraptotic death in human cancer cells.

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Unit of General and Clinical Pathology, Department of Experimental Medicine, University of Parma, Parma, Italy.


The copper(II) complex A0 induces a type of non-apoptotic cell death also known as paraptosis. Paraptosis involves extensive endoplasmic reticulum vacuolization in the absence of caspase activation. A wide panel of human cancer cell lines was used to demonstrate differences in cytotoxicity by the paraptosis-inducing drug A0 and the metal-based pro-apoptotic drug cisplatin. Gene expression profiling of the human fibrosarcoma HT1080 cells showed that, while cisplatin induced p53 targets, A0 up-regulated genes involved in the unfolded protein response (UPR) and response to heavy metals. The cytotoxic effects of A0 were associated with inhibition of the ubiquitin-proteasome system and accumulation of ubiquitinylated proteins, in a manner dependent on protein synthesis. Cycloheximide inhibited the accumulation of ubiquitinylated proteins and hampered A0-induced cell death process. The occurrence of the UPR during A0-induced death process was shown by the increased abundance of spliced XBP1 mRNA, transient eIF2alpha phosphorylation, and a series of downstream events, including attenuation of global protein synthesis and increased expression of ATF4, CHOP, BIP, and GADD34. Mouse embryonic fibroblasts expressing a mutant eIF2alpha, which could not be phosphorylated, were more resistant to A0 than wild type cells, pointing to a pro-death role of eIF2alpha phosphorylation. A0 may thus represent the prototypical member of a new class of compounds that cause paraptotic cell death via mechanisms involving eIF2alpha phosphorylation and the UPR.

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