Triapine and a more potent dimethyl derivative induce endoplasmic reticulum stress in cancer cells

Robert Trondl, Lea S Flocke, Christian R Kowol, Petra Heffeter, Ute Jungwirth, Georg E Mair, Ralf Steinborn, Éva A Enyedy, Michael A Jakupec, Walter Berger, Bernhard K Keppler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (SciVal)


Triapine (3-AP; 3-aminopyridine-2-carboxaldehyde thiosemicarbazone), a ribonucleotide reductase inhibitor, has been extensively evaluated in clinical trials in the last decade. This study addresses the role of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress in the anticancer activity of 3-AP and the derivative N(4),N(4)-dimethyl-triapine (3-AP-Me), differing from 3-AP only by dimethylation of the terminal nitrogen. Treatment of colon cancer cells with 3-AP or 3-AP-Me activated all three ER stress pathways (PERK, IRE1a, ATF6) by phosphorylation of eIF2α and upregulation of gene expression of activating transcription factors ATF4 and ATF6. In particular, 3-AP-Me led to an upregulation of the alternatively spliced mRNA variant XBP1 (16-fold). Moreover, 3-AP and 3-AP-Me activated the cellular stress kinases c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases, and inhibition of JNK activity antagonized the cytotoxic effect of both compounds. Subsequent to induction of the unfolded protein response, a significant upregulation of proapoptotic proteins was detected, including the transcription factor CHOP and Bim, an essential factor for ER stress-related apoptosis. In correlation with the higher degree of ER stress after 3-AP-Me treatment, also a more potent depolarization of mitochondrial membranes was found. These data suggest that 3-AP and 3-AP-Me induce apoptosis via ER stress. This was further corroborated by showing that inhibition of protein biosynthesis with cycloheximide prior to 3-AP and 3-AP-Me treatment leads to a significant reduction of the antiproliferative properties of both compounds. Taken together, this study demonstrates that induction of ER stress contributes to the mode of action of 3-AP and that terminal dimethylation leads to an even more pronounced manifestation of this effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-9
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Pharmacology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • Activating Transcription Factor 4/genetics
  • Activating Transcription Factor 6/genetics
  • Apoptosis/drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colonic Neoplasms/genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins/genetics
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum/drug effects
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress/drug effects
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2/genetics
  • HCT116 Cells
  • HL-60 Cells
  • Humans
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases/genetics
  • Mitochondrial Membranes/drug effects
  • Phosphorylation/drug effects
  • Pyridines/pharmacology
  • Regulatory Factor X Transcription Factors
  • Thiosemicarbazones/pharmacology
  • Transcription Factor CHOP
  • Transcription Factors/genetics
  • Unfolded Protein Response/drug effects
  • Up-Regulation/drug effects
  • X-Box Binding Protein 1
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases/genetics


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