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Biochemistry. 1998 Apr 14;37(15):5136-46.

The DNA intercalating alkaloid cryptolepine interferes with topoisomerase II and inhibits primarily DNA synthesis in B16 melanoma cells.

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  • 1Laboratoire d'Histologie et de Cytologie, Institut d'Anatomie (L3), Université de Liège, Rue de Pitteurs, 20, 4020 Liège, Belgium. de


Cryptolepine hydrochloride is an indoloquinoline alkaloid isolated from the roots of Cryptolepis sanguinolenta. It is characterized by a multiplicity of host-mediated biological activities, including antibacterial, antiviral, and antimalarial properties. To date, the molecular basis for its diverse biological effects remains largely uncertain. Several lines of evidence strongly suggest that DNA might correspond to its principal cellular target. Consequently, we studied the strength and mode of binding to DNA of cryptolepine by means of absorption, fluorescence, circular, and linear dichroism, as well as by a relaxation assay using DNA topoisomerases. The results of various optical and gel electrophoresis techniques converge to reveal that the alkaloid binds tightly to DNA and behaves as a typical intercalating agent. In DNAase I footprinting experiments it was found that the drug interacts preferentially with GC-rich sequences and discriminates against homo-oligomeric runs of A and T. This study has also led to the discovery that cryptolepine is a potent topoisomerase II inhibitor and a promising antitumor agent. It stabilizes topoisomerase II-DNA covalent complexes and stimulates the cutting of DNA at a subset of preexisting topoisomerase II cleavage sites. Taking advantage of the fluorescence of the indoloquinoline chromophore, fluorescence microscopy was used to map cellular uptake of the drug. Cryptolepine easily crosses the cell membranes and accumulates selectively into the nuclei rather than in the cytoplasm of B16 melanoma cells. Quantitative analyses of DNA in cells after Feulgen reaction and image cytometry reveal that the drug blocks the cell cycle in G2/M phases. It is also shown that the alkaloid is more potent at inhibiting DNA synthesis rather than RNA and protein synthesis. Altogether, the results provide direct evidence that DNA is the primary target of cryptolepine and suggest that this alkaloid is a valid candidate for the development of tumor active compounds.

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