Disulfiram/copper causes redox-related proteotoxicity and concomitant heat shock response in ovarian cancer cells that is augmented by auranofin-mediated thioredoxin inhibition

Margarita Papaioannou1, Ioannis Mylonas1, Richard E. Kast2, Ansgar Brüning1

1 Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology, University Hospital Munich, Germany

2 IIAIGC Study Center, Burlington, VT, USA


Ansgar Brüning, email:

Keywords: drug repurposing; proteotoxicity; disulfiram; auranofin; heat shock response; heat shock proteins; ovarian cancer

Received: September 5, 2013 Accepted: December 9, 2013 Published: December 11, 2013


A valuable strategy to develop new therapeutic options for a variety of diseases has been the identification of new targets and applications for already approved drugs, the so-called drug repositioning. Recurrent ovarian cancer is a nearly incurable malignancy for which new and effective treatments are urgently needed. The alcohol-deterring drug disulfiram has been shown to cause preferential cell death in a variety of cancer cells. In this study, it is shown that disulfiram mediates effective cell death in ovarian cancer cells by promoting a pro-oxidative intracellular environment in a copper-dependent mechanism. Within few hours of application, disulfiram caused irreversible cell damage associated with pronounced induction of the inducible heat shock proteins HSP70, HSP40, and HSP32. The small heat shock protein HSP27 was found to be covalently dimerized via oxidized disulfide bonds and precipitated in para-nuclear protein aggregates. Simultaneous inhibition of the cellular thioredoxin system by auranofin further enhanced the cytotoxic effect of disulfiram. These data indeed indicate that the combination of two approved drugs, the anti-alcoholic disulfiram and the anti-rheumatic auranofin, may be of interest for the treatment of recurrent and genotoxic drug-resistant ovarian cancer by inducing a proteotoxic cell death mechanism

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