With many cancers showing resistance to current chemotherapies, the search for novel anti-cancer agents is attracting considerable attention. Natural flavonoids have been identified as useful leads in such programmes. However, since an in-depth understanding of the structural requirements for optimum activity is generally lacking, further research is required before the full potential of flavonoids as anti-proliferative agents can be realised. Herein a broad library of 76 methoxy and hydroxy flavones, and their 4-thio analogues, was constructed and their structure-activity relationships for anti-proliferative activity against the breast cancer cell lines MCF-7 (ER+ve), MCF-7/DX (ER+ve, anthracycline resistant) and MDA-MB-231 (ER-ve) were probed. Within this library, 42 compounds were novel, and all compounds were afforded in good yields and > 95% purity. The most promising lead compounds, specifically the novel hydroxy 4-thioflavones 15f and 16f, were further evaluated for their anti-proliferative activities against a broader range of cancer cell lines by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), USA and displayed significant growth inhibition profiles (e.g Compound-15f: MCF-7 (GI50 = 0.18 μM), T-47D (GI50 = 0.03 μM) and MDA-MB-468 (GI50 = 0.47 μM) and compound-16f: MCF-7 (GI50 = 1.46 μM), T-47D (GI50 = 1.27 μM) and MDA-MB-231 (GI50 = 1.81 μM) . Overall, 15f and 16f exhibited 7-46 fold greater anti-proliferative potency than the natural flavone chrysin (2d). A systematic structure-activity relationship study
against the breast cancer cell lines highlighted that free hydroxyl groups and the B-ring phenyl groups were essential for enhanced anti-proliferative activities. Substitution of the 4-C=O functionality with a 4-C=S functionality, and incorporation of electron withdrawing groups at C4’ of the B-ring phenyl, also enhanced activity. Molecular docking and mechanistic studies suggest that the anti-proliferative effects of flavones 15f and 16f are mediated via ER-independent cleavage of PARP and downregulation of GSK-3β for MCF-7 and MCF-7/DX cell lines. For the MDA-MB-231 cell line, restoration of the wild-type p53 DNA binding activity of mutant p53 tumour suppressor gene was indicated.

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Date of publication: 2016; Royal Society of Chemistry, RSC Advances

Author information: Divyashree Ravishankar (1); Kimberly A. Watson (2); Francesca Greco (1); & Helen M. I. Osborn (1)

(1) School of Pharmacy, University of Reading, Whiteknights, RG6 6AD, Berkshire, UK
(2) School of Biological Sciences, Harborne Building, University of Reading, Whiteknights RG6 6AD, Berkshire, UK

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