Proliferation and apoptosis pathways are tightly regulated in a cell by the ubiquitin–proteasome system(UPS) and alterations in the UPS may result in cellular transformation or other pathological conditions. Indeed, the proteasome is often found to be overactive in cancer cells. It has also been found that cancer cells aremore sensitive to proteasome inhibition than normal cells, and therefore proteasome inhibitors are pursued as antitumor drugs. The use of the proteasome inhibitor Bortezomib for treatment ofmultiplemyeloma and mantle cell lymphoma has proved this principle. Recent studies have suggested that copper complexes can inhibit proteasome activity and induce apoptosis in some human cancer cells. However, the involved molecular mechanism is unknown. In this study, we investigated the biological activities of four amino acid Schiff base–copper(II) complexes by using human breast (MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7) and prostate (PC-3) cancer cells. The complexes C1 and C3, but not their counterparts C2 and C4, inhibit the chymotrypsin-like activity of purified 20S proteasome and human cancer cellular 26S proteasome, cause accumulation of proteasome target proteins Bax and IκB-α, and induce growth inhibition and apoptosis in concentration- and time-dependent manners. Docking analysis shows that C1, but not C2 has hydrophobic, pi–pi, pi–cation and hydrogen bond interactions with the proteasomal chymotrypsinlike pocket and could stably fit into the S3 region, leading to specific inhibition. Our study has identified themechanismof action of these copper complexes on inhibiting tumor cell proteasome and suggested their great potential as novel anticancer agents.
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