Thioalbamide inhibits FoF1-ATPase in breast cancer cells and reduces tumor proliferation and invasiveness in breast cancer in vivo models

L. Frattaruolo, R. Malivindi, M. Brindisi, V. Rago, ... A.R. Cappello


Thioalbamide is a ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified peptide (RiPP) belonging to the family of thioamitides, a rare class of microbial specialized metabolites with unusual post-translational modifications and promising biological activities. Recent studies have demonstrated the ability of thioalbamide to exert highly selective cytotoxic effects on tumor cells by affecting their energy metabolism, thus causing abnormal ROS production and triggering apoptosis. This study is aimed to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the antitumor activity of thioalbamide in order to identify its exact molecular target.


Wild type MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cell lines as well as cancer cells deprived of mitochondrial DNA (ρ0 cells) were employed in order to assess thioalbamide effects on tumor bioenergetics. In this regard, metabolic profile was evaluated by a Seahorse XFe96 analyzer, and the activity of the enzyme complexes involved in oxidative phosphorylation was quantified by spectrophotometric assays. Thioalbamide effects on tumor invasiveness were assessed by gelatin zymography experiments and invasion assays. In vivo experiments were carried out on breast cancer xenograft and “experimental metastasis” mouse models.


Experiments carried out on ρ0 breast cancer cells, together with Seahorse analysis and the application of spectrophotometric enzymatic assays, highlighted the ability of thioalbamide to affect the mitochondrial respiration process, and allowed to propose the FoF1-ATPase complex as its main molecular target in breast cancer cells. Additionally, thioalbamide-mediated OXPHOS inhibition was shown, for the first time, to reduce tumor invasiveness by inhibiting metalloproteinase-9 secretion. Furthermore, this study has confirmed the antitumor potential of thioalbamide in two different in vivo models. In particular, experiments on MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 xenograft mouse models have confirmed in vivo its high anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic activity, while experiments on MDA-MB-231 ″experimental metastasis” mouse models have highlighted its ability to inhibit breast cancer cell invasiveness.


Overall, our results shed more light on the molecular mechanisms underlying the pharmacological potential of thioamidated peptides, thus reducing the gap that separates this rare class of microbial metabolites from clinical studies, which could validate them as effective tools for cancer treatment.