Design of a hydrogen peroxide-activatable agent that specifically targets cancer cells

Anish K. Vadukoot, Safnas F. Abdulsalam, Mark Wunderlich, Eboni D. Pullen, Julio Landero-Figueroa, James C. Mulloy, Eddie J. Merino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Some cancers, like acute myeloid leukemia (AML), use reactive oxygen species to endogenously activate cell proliferation and angiogenic signaling cascades. Thus many cancers display increases in reactive oxygen like hydrogen peroxide concentrations. To translate this finding into a therapeutic strategy we designed new hydrogen peroxide-activated agents with two key molecular pharmacophores. The first pharmacophore is a peroxide-acceptor and the second is a pendant amine. The acceptor is an N-(2,5-dihydroxyphenyl)acetamide susceptible to hydrogen peroxide oxidation. We hypothesized that selectivity between AML and normal cells could be achieved by tuning the pendant amine. Synthesis and testing of fourteen compounds that differed at the pendent amine led to the identification of an agent (14) with 2 μM activity against AML cancer cells and an eleven fold-lower activity in healthy CD34+ blood stem cells. Interestingly, analysis shows that upon oxidation the pendant amine cyclizes, ejecting water, with the acceptor to give a bicyclic compound capable of reacting with nucleophiles. Preliminary mechanistic investigations show that AML cells made from addition of two oncogenes (NrasG12D and MLL-AF9) increase the ROS-status, is initially an anti-oxidant as hydrogen peroxide is consumed to activate the pro-drug, and cells respond by upregulating electrophilic defense as visualized by Western blotting of KEAP1. Thus, using this chemical approach we have obtained a simple, potent, and selective ROS-activated anti-AML agent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6885-6892
Number of pages8
JournalBioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry
Issue number24
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Anti-cancer agent
  • Conjugate addition
  • Oxidative stress
  • Reactive oxygen species


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