Design, synthesis, and characterization of the antitumor activity of novel ceramide analogues

M. Macchia*, S. Barontini, S. Bertini, V. Di Bussolo, S. Fogli, E. Giovannetti, E. Grossi, F. Minutolo, R. Danesi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A deficiency in apoptosis is one of the key events in the proliferation and resistance of malignant cells to antitumor agents; for these reasons, the search for apoptosis-inducing drugs represents a valuable approach for the development of novel anticancer therapies. In this study we report the first example of conformationally restrained analogues of ceramide (compounds 1-4), where the polar portion of the molecule has been replaced by a thiouracil (1, 3) or uracil (2, 4) ring. The evaluation of their biologic activity on CCRF-CEM human leukemia cells demonstrated that the most active was compound 1 followed by compound 2 (mean 50% inhibition of cell proliferation [IC50] 1.7 and 7.9 μM, respectively), while compounds 3 and 4 were inactive, as were uracil, thiouracil, and 5,6-dimethyluracil, the pyrimidine moieties of compounds 1-4. For comparison, the IC50 of the reference substance, the cell-permeable C2-ceramide, was 31.6 μM. Compounds 1 and 2 and C2-ceramide were able to trigger apoptosis, as shown by the occurrence of DNA and nuclear fragmentation, and to release cytochrome c from treated cells. The treatment of female CD-1 nu/nu athymic mice bearing a WiDr human colon xenograft with the most active compound 1 at 2, 10, 50, and 200 mg/kg ip daily for 10 days resulted in an antitumor effect that was equivalent at 50 mg/kg or superior (200 mg/kg) to that of cyclophosphamide, 20 mg/kg ip daily, delivered on the same schedule, with markedly lower systemic toxicity. In conclusion, the present study demonstrates that the new ceramide analogues 1 and 2 are characterized by in vitro and in vivo antitumor activity and low toxicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3994-4000
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Medicinal Chemistry
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2001

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