New candidate drug stops cancer cells, regenerates nerve cells

Jun 21, 2012

Scientists have developed a small-molecule-inhibiting drug that in early laboratory cell tests stopped breast cancer cells from spreading and also promoted the growth of early nerve cells called neurites.

Researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center report their findings online June 21 in & Biology. The scientists named their lead drug candidate "Rhosin" and hope future testing shows it to be promising for the treatment of various cancers or nervous system damage.

The inhibitor overcomes a number of previous scientific challenges by precisely targeting a single component of a cell signaling protein complex called Rho GTPases. This complex regulates cell movement and growth throughout the body. Miscues in Rho GTPase processes are also widely implicated in human diseases, including various cancers and neurologic disorders.

"Although still years from clinical development, in principle Rhosin could be useful in therapy for many kinds of cancer or possibly neuron and spinal cord regeneration," said Yi Zheng, PhD, lead investigator and director of Experimental Hematology and Cancer Biology at Cincinnati Children's. "We've performed in silica (computerized) rational drug design, pharmacological characterization and cell tests in the laboratory, and we are now starting to work with mouse models."

Because the role of Rho GTPases in cellular processes and cancer formation is well established, researchers have spent years trying to identify safe and effective therapeutic targets for specific parts of the protein complex. In particular, scientists have focused on the center protein in the complex called RhoA, which is essential for the signaling function of the complex. In breast cancer for example, increased RhoA activity makes the cancer more invasive and causes them to spread, while a deficiency of RhoA suppresses cancer growth and progression.

Despite this knowledge, past efforts to develop an effective small-molecule inhibitor for RhoA have failed, explained Zheng, who has studied Rho GTPases for over two decades. Most roadblocks stem from a lack of specificity in how researchers have been able to target RhoA, a resulting lack of efficiency in affecting molecular processes, problems with toxicity, and the inability to find a workable drug design.

For the current study, Zheng and his colleagues started with the extensive body of research from Cincinnati Children's and other institutions describing the processes and functions of Rho GTPases. They then used high-throughput computerized molecular screening and computerized drug design to reveal a druggable target site. This also provided a preliminary virtual simulation on the potential effectiveness of candidate drugs.

A key challenge to binding a small-molecule inhibitor to RhoA is the protein's globular structure and lack of surface pocket areas suitable for easy binding, Zheng said. The unique chemical structure of the lead compound identified by researchers, Rhosin, allows it to effectively bind to two shallow surface grooves on RhoA. This enables the candidate drug to take root and begin affecting cells. The two-legged configuration of Rosin also describes a useful drug design strategy for more effectively targeting difficult molecular sites like RhoA.

The researchers also wanted to make sure Rhosin effectively blocked what are known as guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs). Guanine nucleotide is a critical energy source and signaling component of cells. Activation of GEFs is required to set off the regulatory signaling of GTPases (GTP stands for guanosine triphosphate).

After conducting a series of laboratory cell tests to verify the targeting and binding capabilities of Rhosin to RhoA, the researchers then tested the candidate drug's impact on cultured and .

In tests on a human breast cells, Rhosin inhibited cell growth and the formation of mammary spheres in a dose dependent manner, acting specifically on RhoA molecular targets without disrupting other critical cellular processes. Rhosin does not affect non-cancerous breast cells. This, along with other tests the scientists performed, indicated Rhosin's effectiveness in targeting RhoA-mediated proliferation, according to the researchers.

Researchers also treated an extensively tested line of neuronal cells with Rhosin, along with nerve growth factor, a protein that is important to the growth and survival of neurons. Rhosin worked with nerve growth factor in a dose-dependent way to promote the proliferation of branching neurites from the neuronal cells. Neurites are young or early stage extensions from neurons required for neuronal communications.

Explore further: The anti-inflammatory factory

Related Stories

Scientists find key to gene that promotes cancer metastasis

Apr 12, 2010

The molecular machinery that switches on a gene known to cause breast cancer to spread and invade other organs has been identified by an international team led by scientists at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer ...

Therapy may block expansion of breast cancer cells

Nov 05, 2008

Breast cancer stem cells are known to be involved in therapy resistance and the recurrence of cancerous tumors. A new study appearing in Clinical and Translational Science shows the mechanisms governing stem cell expansion in bre ...

Recommended for you

The anti-inflammatory factory

Apr 22, 2014

Russian scientists, in collaboration with their colleagues from Pittsburgh University, have discovered how lipid mediators are produced. The relevant paper was published in Nature Chemistry. Lipid mediators are molecules that p ...

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Apr 16, 2014

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

World's first successful visualisation of key coenzyme

Apr 16, 2014

Japanese researchers have successfully developed the world's first imaging method for visualising the behaviour of nicotine-adenine dinucleotide derivative (NAD(P)H), a key coenzyme, inside cells. This feat ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Mantis shrimp stronger than airplanes

(Phys.org) —Inspired by the fist-like club of a mantis shrimp, a team of researchers led by University of California, Riverside, in collaboration with University of Southern California and Purdue University, ...

The anti-inflammatory factory

Russian scientists, in collaboration with their colleagues from Pittsburgh University, have discovered how lipid mediators are produced. The relevant paper was published in Nature Chemistry. Lipid mediators are molecules that p ...

Robot scouts rooms people can't enter

(Phys.org) —Firefighters, police officers and military personnel are often required to enter rooms with little information about what dangers might lie behind the door. A group of engineering students at ...

In the 'slime jungle' height matters

(Phys.org) —In communities of microbes, akin to 'slime jungles', cells evolve not just to grow faster than their rivals but also to push themselves to the surface of colonies where they gain the best access ...

ESA's weightless plants fly on a Dragon

(Phys.org) —It is a race against time for ESA's Gravi-2 experiment following launch last Friday on the Dragon space ferry. Stowed in Dragon's cargo are lentil seeds that will be nurtured into life on the ...