Enediyne natural products are a class of compounds that were recognized for their potential as chemotherapeutic agents many years ago, but found to be highly cytotoxic due to their propensity for low thermal activation. Bergman cyclization of the enediyne moiety produces a diradical intermediate, and may subsequently induce DNA damage and account for the extreme cytotoxicity. While difficulties in controlling the thermal cyclization reaction have limited the clinical use of cyclic enediynes, we have previously shown that enediyne activity, and thus toxicity at physiological temperatures can be modulated by metallation of acyclic enediynes. Furthermore, the cytotoxicity of “metalloenediynes” can be potentiated by hyperthermia. In this study, we characterized a suite of novel metallated enediyne motifs that usually induced little or no cytotoxicity when two different human cancer cell lines were treated with the compounds at 37°C, but showed a significant enhancement of cytotoxicity after cells were exposed to moderate hyperthermia during drug treatment. Cultured U-1 melanoma or MDA-231 breast cancer cells were treated with various concentrations of Cu, Fe and Zn complexes of the enediyne (Z)-N,N′-bis[1-pyridyl-2-yl-meth-(E)-ylidene]octa-4-ene-2,6-diyne-1,8-diamine (PyED) and clonogenic survival was assessed to determine the effects of the drugs at 37°C and 42.5°C. Toxicity at 37°C varied for each compound, but hyperthermia potentiated the cytotoxicity of each compound in both cell lines. Cytotoxicity was concentration-, time- and temperature-dependent. Heating cells during drug treatment resulted in enhanced apoptosis, but the role of cell cycle perturbation in the response of the cells to the drugs was less clear. Lastly, we showed that hyperthermia enhanced the number of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) induced by the compounds, and inhibited their repair after drug treatment. Thus, thermal enhancement of cytotoxicity may be due, at least in part, to the propensity of the enediyne moiety to induce DSBs, and/or a reduction in DSB repair efficiency. We propose that “tuning” of metalloenediyne toxicity through better-controlled reactivity could have potential clinical utility, since we envision that such compounds could be administered systemically as relatively non-toxic agents, but cytotoxicity could be enhanced in, and confined to a tumor volume when subjected to localized heating.

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