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Pharmacodynamics of telomerase inhibition and telomere shortening by noncytotoxic suramin.

Authors: Yuebo Y. Gan, Jie J. Lu, Bertrand Z BZ. Yeung, Christopher T CT. Cottage, M Guillaume MG. Wientjes, Jessie L-S JL. Au
Published: 11/26/2014, The AAPS journal


We reported that suramin is an effective chemosensitizer at noncytotoxic concentrations (<50 μM); this effect was observed in multiple types of human xenograft tumors in vitro and in vivo. Clinical evaluation of noncytotoxic suramin is ongoing. Because (a) suramin inhibits reverse transcriptase, (b) telomerase is a reverse transcriptase, and (c) inhibition of telomerase enhances tumor chemosensitivity, we studied the pharmacodynamics of noncytotoxic suramin on telomerase activity and telomere length in cultured cells and tumors grown in animals. In three human cancer cells that depend on telomerase for telomere maintenance (pharynx FaDu, prostate PC3, breast MCF7), suramin inhibited telomerase activity in cell extracts and intact cells at concentrations that exhibited no cytotoxicity (IC50 of telomerase was between 1 and 3 μM vs. >60 μM for cytotoxicity), and continuous treatment at 10-25 μM for 6 weeks resulted in gradual telomere shortening (maximum of 30%) and cell senescence (measured by β-galactosidase activity and elevation of mRNA levels of two senescence markers p16 and p21). In contrast, noncytotoxic suramin did not shorten the telomere in telomerase-independent human osteosarcoma Saos-2 cells. In mice bearing FaDu tumors, treatment with noncytotoxic suramin for 6 weeks resulted in telomere erosion in >95% of the tumor cells with an average telomere shortening of >40%. These results indicate noncytotoxic suramin inhibits telomerase, shortens telomere and induces cell senescence, and suggest telomerase inhibition as a potential mechanism of its chemosensitization.

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