A novel mechanism which induces the self-killing of cancer cells by perturbing ion homeostasis has been described by researchers. A research team from the Department of Biochemical Engineering has developed helical polypeptide potassium ionophores that lead to the onset of programmed cell death. The ionophores increase the active oxygen concentration to stress endoplasmic reticulum to the point of cellular death.
The electrochemical gradient between extracellular and intracellular conditions plays an important role in cell growth and metabolism. When a cell's ion homeostasis is disturbed, critical functions accelerating the activation of apoptosis are inhibited in the cell.
Although ionophores have been intensively used as an ion homeostasis disturber, the mechanisms of cell death have been unclear and the bio-applicability has been limited. In the study featured at Advanced Science, the team presented an alpha helical peptide-based anticancer agent that is capable of transporting potassium ions with water solubility. The cationic, hydrophilic, and potassium ionic groups were combined at the end of the peptide side chain to provide both ion transport and hydrophilic properties.
Anticancer effects were evaluated using tumor-bearing mice to confirm the therapeutic effect, even in animal models. It was found that tumor growth was strongly inhibited by endoplasmic stress-mediated apoptosis.
Professor Yeu-Chun Kim said he expects this new mechanism to be widely used as a new chemotherapeutic strategy. This research was funded by the National Research Foundation.