Investigation of the antiproliferative properties of tumour promoting phorbol esters and related compounds

  • Ian L. Dale

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Tumour promoting phorbol esters such as 12-0-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) exert a multitude of biological effects on many cellular systems, many of which are believed to be mediated via the activation of the enzyme protein kinase C (PKC). TPA and other biologically active phorbol esters inhibited the proliferation of the A549 human lung carcinoma cell line. However, after 5-6 days culture in the continued presence of the phorbol ester cells began to proliferate at a rate similar to that of untreated cells. Resistance to TPA was lost following subculturing, although subculture in the presence of 10 nM TPA for more than 9 weeks resulted in a more resistant phenotype. The selection of a TPA-resistant subpopulation was not responsible for the observed resistance. The antiproliferative properties of other PKC activators were investigated. Mezerein induced the same antiproliferative effects as TPA but synthetic diacylglycerols (DAGs), the presumed physiological ligands of PKC, exerted only a non-specific cytotoxic influence on growth. Bryostatins 1 and 2 were able to induce transient growth arrest of A549 cells in a manner similar to phorbol esters at nanomolar concentrations, but at higher concentrations blocked both their own antiproliferative action and also that of phorbol esters and mezerein. Fourteen compounds synthesized to mimic features of the phorbol ester pharmacophore and/or DAGs did not mimic the antiproliferative properties of TPA in A549 cells and exerted only a DAG-like non-specific cytotoxicity at high concentrations. The subcellular distribution and activity of PKC was determined following partial purification by non-denaturing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Treatment with TPA, mezerein or bryostatins resulted in a concentration-dependent shift of PKC activity from the cytosol to cellular membranes within 30 min. Significant translocation was not observed on treatment with DAGs. Chronic exposure of cells to TPA caused a time- and concentration dependent down-regulation of functional PKC activity. A complete loss of PKC activity was also observed on treatment with growth-inhibitory concentrations of bryostatins. No PKC activity was detected in cells resistant to the growth-inhibitory influence of TPA. Measurement of intracellular Ca2+ concentrations using A549 cells cultured on Cytodex 1 microcarrier beads revealed that TPA, mezerein and the bryostatins induced a similar rapid rise in intracellular Ca2+ levels.
Date of Award1989
Original languageEnglish


  • antiproliferative properties
  • tumour promoting phorbol esters
  • compounds

Cite this