Mitochondria-Targeted Lupane Triterpenoid Derivatives and Their Selective Apoptosis-Inducing Anticancer Mechanisms

Yaqing Ye, Tao Zhang, Huiqing Yuan, Defeng Li, Hongxiang Lou, Peihong Fan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Betulin and betulinic acid have been widely studied for their anticancer activities. However, their further development is limited due to low bioavailability, poor aqueous solubility, and limited intracellular accumulation. In the present study, a triphenylphosphonium cation moiety was linked to betulin and betulinic acid to specifically target them to cancer cell mitochondria. Biological characterization established that uptake of mitochondria-targeted compound 1a in the mitochondria of cancer cells was increased compared to betulin. The mitochondria-targeted derivatives of betulin and betulinic acid showed stronger cytotoxicity than their parent drugs and exhibited more cytotoxic effects in cancer cells than normal cells. The mechanisms may involve the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway, probably caused by the induction of reactive oxygen species production and reducing mitochondrial membrane potential. More importantly, 1a significantly inhibited cancer cell proliferation and migration in an in vivo zebrafish xenograft model. Collectively, these results encourage further study of 1a analogs as anticancer agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6353-6363
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Medicinal Chemistry
Issue number14
StatePublished - 27 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


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