Potential anti-cancer activity of 7-O-pentyl quercetin: Efficient, membrane-targeted kinase inhibition and pro-oxidant effect

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Graphical abstractQuercetin is a redox-active plant-derived flavonoid with potential anticancer effects, stemming largely from its interaction with a number of proteins, and in particular from inhibition of pro-life kinases. To improve efficacy, we reasoned that a local increase in concentration of the compound at the level of cell membranes would result in a more efficient interaction with membrane-associated signaling kinases. We report here the synthesis of all five isomeric quercetin derivatives in which an n-pentyl group was linked via an ether bond to each hydroxyl of the flavonoid kernel. This strategy proved effective in directing quercetin to cellular membranes, and revealed a remarkable dependence of the derivatives' bioactivity on the specific site of functionalization. The isomer bearing the pentyl group in position 7, Q-7P, turned out to be the most effective and promising derivative, selectively inducing apoptosis in tumoral and fast-growing cells, while sparing slow-growing, non-tumoral ones. Cytotoxicity for tumoral cells was strongly enhanced compared to quercetin itself. Q-7P induced massive ROS production, which however accounted only partially for cell death. Alterations in the levels of various signaling phospho-proteins were observed in a proteomics screen. An important contribution seems to come from inhibition of the PI3K/Akt pathway. This work opens new perspectives in developing membrane-associating, polyphenol-based anticancer agents.

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