Selective elimination of cancer cells by PEITC: Biological basis and therapeutic implications

Dunyaporn Trachootham, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Toxic side effect is a major problem in cancer chemotherapy. Therefore, identification and development of new agents that can selectively remove cancer with low toxicity to normal cells would have significant clinical impact. Compared to normal cells, cancer cells are under intrinsic stress with elevated reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. My research aimed to exploit this biochemical alteration as a novel basis to develop a selective agent. The goal of my dissertation research was to test the hypothesis that since most cancer cells are under higher oxidative stress than normal cells, compounds which modulate oxidative stress such as pphenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) may preferentially impact cancer cells through ROS-mediated mechanisms and have implications in cancer therapeutics. Using H-RasV1-transformed ovarian cells and their immortalized non-tumorigenic counterparts, I discovered that the transformed cells exhibited increased ROS generation and this intrinsic stress rendered them highly dependent on glutathione antioxidant system to maintain redox balance. Abolishing this system by PEITC through depletion of glutathione and inhibition of GPX activity led to a preferential ROS increase in the transformed cells. The severe ROS accumulation caused oxidative damage to the mitochondria membranes and impaired the membrane integrity leading to massive cell death. In contrast, PEITC caused only a modest increase of ROS insufficient to cause significant cell death in non-transformed cells. Promisingly, PEITC exhibited anticancer activity in vivo by prolonging survival of mice bearing the Ras-transformed ovarian xenograft with minimal toxic side effect. Further study in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells isolated from the blood samples of CLL patients revealed that PEITC not only exhibits promising selectivity against primary CLL cells compared to normal lymphocytes, but it is also effective in removing CLL cells resistant to standard anti-cancer drug Fludarabine. In conclusion, the data implicate that intrinsic oxidative stress in cancer cells could serve as a biochemical basis to develop selective novel anticancer agents such as PEITC, with significant therapeutic implications.

Subject Area

Cellular biology|Pharmacology|Pathology

Recommended Citation

Trachootham, Dunyaporn, "Selective elimination of cancer cells by PEITC: Biological basis and therapeutic implications" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3305173.