Topoisomerase II is the cytotoxic target for a number of clinically relevant antitumor drugs. Berberrubine, a protoberberine alkaloid which exhibits antitumor activity in animal models, has been identified as a specific poison of topoisomerase II in vitro. Topoisomerase II-mediated DNA cleavage assays showed that berberrubine poisons the enzyme by stabilizing topoisomerase II-DNA cleavable complexes. Subsequent proteinase K treatments revealed that berberrubine-induced DNA cleavage was generated solely by topoisomerase II. Topoisomerase II-mediated DNA religation with elevated temperature revealed a substantial reduction in DNA cleavage induced by berberrubine, to the extent comparable to that of other prototypical topoisomerase II poison, etoposide, suggesting that DNA cleavage involves stabilization of the reversible enzyme-DNA cleavable complex. However, the step at which berberrubine induces cleavable complex may differ from that of etoposide as revealed by the difference in the formation of the intermediate product, nicked DNA. This suggests that berberrubine's primary mode of linear formation may involve trapping nicked molecules, formed at transition from linear to covalently closed circular DNA. Unwinding of the duplex DNA by berberrubine is consistent with an intercalative binding mode for this compound. In addition to the ability to induce the cleavable complex mediated with topoisomerase II, berberrubine at high concentrations was shown to specifically inhibit topoisomerase II catalytic activity. Berberrubine, however, did not inhibit topoisomerase I at concentrations up to 240 μM. Cleavage sites induced by topoisomerase II in the presence of berberrubine and etoposide were mapped in DNA. Berberrubine induces DNA cleavage in a site-specific and concentration-dependent manner. Comparison of the cleavage pattern of berberrubine with that of etoposide revealed that they share many common sites of cleavage. Taken together, these results indicate that berberrubine represents a new class of antitumor agent which exhibits the topoisomerase II poison activity as well as catalytic inhibition activity and may have a potential clinical value in cancer treatment.
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