JBIC Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 123–132 | Cite as

Platinum anticancer agents and antidepressants: desipramine enhances platinum-based cytotoxicity in human colon cancer cells

  • Peyman Kabolizadeh
  • Brigitte J. Engelmann
  • Nicholas Pullen
  • Jennifer K. Stewart
  • John J. Ryan
  • Nicholas P. Farrell
Original Paper


A unique synergistic effect on platinum drug cytotoxicity is noted in the presence of the tricyclic antidepressant desipramine. Desipramine is used for treating neuropathic pain, particularly in prostate cancer patients. The clinically used drugs cisplatin (cis-[PtCl2(NH3)2]), oxaliplatin [1,2-diaminocyclohexaneoxalatoplatinum(II)], and the cationic trinuclear agent BBR3464 [{trans-PtCl(NH3)2}2-μ-(trans-Pt(NH3)2(H2N(CH2)6NH2)2)]4+, which has undergone evaluation in phase II clinical trials for activity in lung and ovarian cancers, were evaluated. Surprisingly, desipramine greatly augments the cytotoxicity of all the platinum-based chemotherapeutics in HCT116 colorectal carcinoma cell lines. Desipramine enhanced cellular accumulation of cisplatin, but had no effect on the accumulation of oxaliplatin or BBR3464, suggesting that enhanced accumulation could not be a consistent means by which desipramine altered the platinum-drug-mediated cytotoxicity. The desipramine/cisplatin combination resulted in increased levels of p53 as well as mitochondrial damage, caspase activation, and poly(ADP ribose) polymerase cleavage, suggesting that desipramine may synergize with cisplatin more than with other platinum chemotherapeutics partly by activating distinct apoptotic pathways. The study argues that desipramine may be a means of enhancing chemoresponsiveness of platinum drugs and the results warrant further investigation. The results emphasize the importance of understanding the differential pharmacological action of adjuvants employed in combinations with cancer chemotherapeutics.


Anticancer drug Albumin DNA damage Toxicity 





Combination index


Human serum albumin


Poly(ADP ribose) polymerase


Phosphate-buffered saline


Propidium iodide



We thank Fréderic Frezard and Paul Dent for helpful discussions. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, R01-CA78754 (N.P.F.) and R01-AI59638 (J.R.).

Supplementary material

775_2011_836_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (208 kb)
Fig. 1S (PDF 208 kb)


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Copyright information

© SBIC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peyman Kabolizadeh
    • 1
  • Brigitte J. Engelmann
    • 1
  • Nicholas Pullen
    • 2
  • Jennifer K. Stewart
    • 2
  • John J. Ryan
    • 2
  • Nicholas P. Farrell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ChemistryVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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