Marine sponge-derived polymeric alkylpyridinium salts as a novel tumor chemotherapeutic targeting the cholinergic system in lung tumors

Laura Paleari, Sonya Trombino, Carla Falugi, Lorenzo Gallus, Sebastiano Carlone, Cristiano Angelini, Kristina Sepcic, Tom Turk, Marco Faimali, Douglas M. Noonan, Adriana Albini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies have shown that the cholinergic system plays a pivotal rule in small cell lung cancer (SCLC) cell growth through an autocrine loop that activates the nicotinic cholinergic receptor, which together with the activation of this receptor by nicotine links SCLC evolution with tobacco use. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common form of lung cancer and is also linked to tobacco use. Here we describe the presence of molecules of the cholinergic system in NSCLC samples and cell lines and investigate the implications of the cholinergic system in cell growth regulation. Cholinoacetyltransferase (ChAT), vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT) and acetylcholinesterase (AChE) were observed in NSCLC tumor biopsies and in NSCLC cell lines. Polymeric alkylpyridinium salts (poly-APS) are AChE inhibitors isolated from the crude extract of the marine sponge, Reniera sarai. These metabolites were characterized as a mixture of two polymers of 3-octylpyridinium, including 29 and 99 monomeric units. Exposure of normal lung fibroblast and NSCLC cell lines to poly-APS revealed a selective cytotoxicity for cancer cells as compared to the normal fibroblast cell lines. FACS analysis indicated poly-APS induced apoptosis in NSCLC cells but not in normal lymphocytes. Non-toxic doses of poly-APS also potently reduced NSCLC cell-cell adhesion in suspension cultures. The limited toxicity of poly-APS on normal cells was confirmed by injection in the caudal vein of mice. No overt effects on health parameters, such as weight gain and physical behavior, were observed, and histological analysis of major organs did not reveal differences between the treated animals as compared to controls. These data demonstrate that NSCLC cells express cholinergic molecules that may be involved in cell growth regulation and that the cholinesterase inhibitor, poly-APS, shows selective toxicity toward NSCLC cells while having no apparent toxicity towards normal cells and tissue in vitro and in vivo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1381-1388
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Oncology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006


  • Alkylpyridinium salts
  • Cholinergic system
  • Lung tumors
  • Marine sponge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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