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Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2011 Jan;31(1):145-53. doi: 10.1007/s10571-010-9563-3. Epub 2010 Sep 17.

A trifluoromethyl analog of verbenachalcone promotes neurite outgrowth and cell proliferation of NeuroScreen-1 cells.

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  • 1Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise, Durham, NC, USA.


Past research has shown that natural products of plant and marine origins and their congeners enhance the actions of neuritogenic factors of the central nervous system (CNS) such as nerve growth factor (NGF). However, the role of fluorine substitutions in their structure-activity relationship (SAR) has not been explored. We have synthesized a trifluoromethyl analog of verbenachalcone (VC), a pharmacologically active natural compound previously shown to potentiate NGF activity. This analog, designated C278, enhances neurite outgrowth and proliferation of NeuroScreen-1™ (NS-1) cells, a subclone of PC12 pheochromocytoma cells. C278 increases the percentage of neurite bearing cells in the presence of suboptimal doses of NGF in comparison with controls treated with NGF alone. In addition, C278 stimulates cell growth in reduced serum and serum-free cell culture conditions based on our observation of increases in cell number and metabolic assessment with MTT reduction and resazurin assays. The addition of C278 partially restored inhibition of NGF-induced neurite outgrowth by the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK) inhibitors PD98059 and U0126. Short-term sequential exposure of cells to U0126, C278, and NGF enhanced phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) in comparison with cells treated with only the MEK inhibitor and NGF. C278 also attenuated cell growth arrest caused by exposure to PD98059, U0126 and the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K) inhibitor, LY294002 but did not alter phosphorylation of Akt, a classic downstream target of PI3K during cell survival. These data suggest that C278 promotes NGF-dependent neurite outgrowth in NS-1 cells through a MEK signaling pathway by a mechanism that alters short-term activation of ERK. In contrast, C278 promotes PI3K-mediated survival independently of Akt phosphorylation.

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