Identification of novel RHPS4-derivative ligands with improved toxicological profiles and telomere-targeting activities

Angela Rizzo, Sara Iachettini, Pasquale Zizza, Chiara Cingolani, Manuela Porru, Simona Artuso, Malcolm Stevens, Marc Hummersone, Annamaria Biroccio, Erica Salvati, Carlo Leonetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The pentacyclic acridinium salt RHPS4 (3,11-difluoro-6,8,13-trimethyl-8H-quino [4,3,2-kl] acridinium methosulfate, compound 1) is one of the most interesting DNA G-quadruplex binding molecules due to its high efficacy in tumor cell growth inhibition both in in vitro models and in vivo against human tumor xenografts in combination with conventional chemotherapeutics. Despite compound 1 having desirable chemical and pharmaceutical properties, its potential as a therapeutic agent is compromised by off-target effects on cardiovascular physiology. In this paper we report a new series of structurally-related compounds which were developed in an attempt to minimize its off-target profile, but maintaining the same favorable chemical and pharmacological features of the lead compound. By performing a comparative analysis it was possible to identify which derivatives had the following properties: (i) to show a reduced capacity in respect to compound 1 to inhibit the hERG tail current tested in a patch clamp assay and/or to interact with the human recombinant β2 receptor; (ii) to maintain both a good G4-binding affinity and cancer cell selectivity; and (iii) to trigger DNA damage with specific telomere uncapping. These studies allowed us to identify a novel G4-stabilizing molecule, compound 8, being characterized by reduced off-target effects and potent telomere on-target properties compared to the prototypic compound 1. Moreover, compound 8 shares with compound 1 the same molecular mode of action and an anti-tumour activity specifically restricted to replicating cells, as evident with its particularly efficient activity in combination therapy with a topoisomerase I inhibitor. In conclusion, we have identified a new pentacyclic derivative 8 having suitable properties to be the focus of further investigations as a clinical candidate for cancer therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number81
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 6 2014


  • Chemotherapy
  • G-quadruplex
  • Telomere-targeting agents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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