Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Cells Exhibit Differential Sensitivity to Cardenolides from Calotropis gigantea

Petra J. Pederson, Shengxin Cai, Chase Carver, Douglas R. Powell, April L. Risinger, Tanja Grkovic, Barry R. O'Keefe, Susan L. Mooberry, Robert H. Cichewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC) are aggressive and heterogeneous cancers that lack targeted therapies. We implemented a screening program to identify new leads for subgroups of TNBC using diverse cell lines with different molecular drivers. Through this program, we identified an extract from Calotropis gigantea that caused selective cytotoxicity in BT-549 cells as compared to four other TNBC cell lines. Bioassay-guided fractionation of the BT-549 selective extract yielded nine cardenolides responsible for the selective activity. These included eight known cardenolides and a new cardenolide glycoside. Structure-activity relationships among the cardenolides demonstrated a correlation between their relative potencies toward BT-549 cells and Na+/K+ ATPase inhibition. Calotropin, the compound with the highest degree of selectivity for BT-549 cells, increased intracellular Ca2+ in sensitive cells to a greater extent than in the resistant MDA-MB-231 cells. Further studies identified a second TNBC cell line, Hs578T, that is also highly sensitive to the cardenolides, and mechanistic studies were conducted to identify commonalities among the sensitive cell lines. Experiments showed that both cardenolide-sensitive cell lines expressed higher mRNA levels of the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger NCX1 than resistant TNBC cells. This suggests that NCX1 could be a biomarker to identify TNBC patients that might benefit from the clinical administration of a cardiac glycoside for anticancer indications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2269-2280
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Natural Products
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 24 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Organic Chemistry


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