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Front. Pharmacol. | doi: 10.3389/fphar.2018.00143

Multifactorial modes of action of arsenic trioxide in cancer cells as analyzed by classical and network pharmacology

  • 1Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany

Arsenic trioxide is a traditional remedy in Chinese Medicine since ages. Nowadays, it is clinically used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) by targeting PML/RARA. However, the drug’s activity is broader and the mechanisms of action in other tumor types remain unclear. In this study, we investigated molecular modes of action by classical and network pharmacological approaches. Multidrug-resistant CEM/ADR5000 cells were sensitive to As2O3 and their wild-type counterpart CCRF-CEM (resistance ratio: 1.88). Drug-resistant U87.MG ΔEGFR glioblastoma cells harboring mutated epidermal growth factor receptor were even more sensitive than wild-type U87.MG cells (resistance ratio: 0.33). HCT-116 colon carcinoma p53-/- knockout cells were 7.16-fold resistant towards As2O3 compared to wild-type cells. Forty genes determining cellular responsiveness to As2O3 were identified by microarray and COMPARE analyses in 58 cell lines of the NCI panel. Hierarchical cluster analysis-based heat mapping revealed significant differences between As2O3-sensitive and -resistant cell lines (p-value: 1.86 x 10-5). The genes were subjected to Galaxy Cistrome gene promoter transcription factor analysis to predict the binding of transcription factors. We have exemplarily chosen NF-kB and AP-1, and indeed As2O3 dose-dependently inhibited the promoter activity of these two transcription factors in GFP reporter cell lines. Furthermore, the genes identified here and those published in the literature were assembled and subjected to Ingenuity Pathway Analysis for comprehensive network pharmacological approaches that included all known factors of resistance of tumor cells to As2O3. In addition to pathways related to the anticancer effects of As2O3, several neurological pathways were identified. As arsenic is well-known to exert neurotoxicity, these pathways might account for neurological side effects. In conclusion, the activity of As2O3 is not restricted to acute promyelocytic leukemia. In addition to PNL/RARA, numerous other genes belonging to diverse functional classes may also contribute to its cytotoxicity. Network pharmacology is suited to unravel the multifactorial modes of action of As2O3.

Keywords: arsenic trioxide, Drug Resistance, pharmacogenomics, AP-1, NF-κB

Received: 28 Sep 2017; Accepted: 09 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Aiping Lu, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

Reviewed by:

Shao Li, Tsinghua University, China
Wang Yonghua, Northwest University, China  

Copyright: © 2018 Dawood, Hamdoun and Efferth. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Thomas Efferth, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Mainz, Germany,