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Med Hypotheses. 2013 Dec;81(6):1159-63. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2013.09.035. Epub 2013 Oct 11.

Is copper chelation an effective anti-angiogenic strategy for cancer treatment?

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Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, School of Dentristry, Aristotles University of Thessaloniki, 54124 Thessaloniki, Greece; Department of Histology and Embryology, Medical School, Aristotles University of Thessaloniki, 54124 Thessaloniki, Greece.


Angiogenesis and the acquisition of an angiogenic phenotype is important for cancer cell proliferation. Copper in an essential trace element that participates in many enzymatic complexes like the cytochrome c, superoxide dismutase and lysyl oxidase and it is involved in processes, like embryogenesis, growth, angiogenesis and carcinogenesis. In particular, its involvement in carcinogenesis was described for the first time in oral submucous fibrosis, where fibroblasts produce large amounts of collagen in the presence of copper. Copper's action in carcinogenesis is two-fold: (1) it participates in reactions with an increased redox potential that result in the production of oxidative products and oxidative stress. Through this mechanism, copper may cause DNA mutations in the nucleus and mitochondria or alterations to membrane phospholipids, (2) it participates in angiogenesis even in the absence of angiogenic molecules, as it was reported for the first time in rabbit cornea models with copolymer pellets charged with PGE1. Copper chelation regimens like penicillamine and tetrathiomolybdate are being described in the literature as having anti-angiogenic, anti-fibrotic and anti-inflammatory actions. Animal models of brain cancer that evaluated the anti-angiogenic properties of copper, have proven evidence of the reduction of tumor's microvascular supply, tumor volume and vascular permeability after plasma copper levels reduction. Interestingly, plasma copper levels reduction was shown to suppress micrometastases generation in mice models of breast cancer. We hypothesize that copper chelation therapy: increases oxidative stress in cancer cells to a level that does not allow survival because of the reduction of anti-oxidative enzymes production. It may also result in inhibition of angiogenesis and of the initiation of the angiogenic switch, because copper normally enhances endothelial cell migration and proliferation, improves binding of growth factors to endothelial cells and enhances the expression of angiogenic molecules. Copper chelation may also reduce extracellular matrix degradation and cancer spread, through reduction of MMP-9 production and probably of other collagenases and may inhibit propagation of micrometastases. However, copper chelation therapy may enhance angiogenesis through reduction of thrombospondin-1, that results into an increase in VEGF-VEGFR2 complexes and a high level of active MMP-9. These hypotheses help in understanding of the anti-angiogenic action of copper chelation therapies and of the complex network of interactions between copper and other molecules involved in angiogenesis. It may also stimulate further research regarding differences in copper metabolism, the effects of anti-copper regimens on organs, the development of resistance, and their possible angiogenic action through thrombospondin expression reduction.

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