The nucleoside antagonist cordycepin causes DNA double strand breaks in breast cancer cells.
ABSTRACT The fungal drug cordycepin (3-deoxyadenosine) is known to exert anti-tumor activities, preferentially by interfering with RNA synthesis. We have investigated the effect of cordycepin on human breast epithelial cell lines, ranging from non-malignant MCF10A cells to highly de-differentiated MDA-MB-435 cancer cells. Treatment of human breast cancer cells with cordycepin caused either apoptosis or persistent cell cycle arrest that was associated with reduced clonal growth of cordycepin-treated breast cancer cells. Highly de-differentiated breast cancer cell lines, such as MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-435, reacted more sensitive to cordycepin than less aggressive breast cancer cell lines (MCF7, T47D) or non-malignant breast epithelial cells (MCF10A), which poorly reacted to cordycepin. In cordycepin-sensitive breast cancer cells, a marked induction of the DNA damage response (DDR), including the phosphorylation of ATM, ATR, and histone γH2AX could be observed. These data indicate that cordycepin, which was believed to cause cancer cell death by inhibition of RNA synthesis, induces DNA double strand breaks in breast cancer cells. The genotoxic effect of cordycepin on breast cancer cells indicates a new mechanism of cordycepin-induced cancer cell death, and its activity against highly undifferentiated breast cancer cells provides a new perspective of how cordycepin may be used in the treatment of advanced breast cancer.