Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Targeting surface nucleolin with multivalent HB-19 and related Nucant pseudopeptides results in distinct inhibitory mechanisms depending on the malignant tumor cell type

Bernard Krust, Diala El Khoury, Isabelle Nondier, Calaiselvy Soundaramourty and Ara G Hovanessian*

Author Affiliations

CNRS-Université Paris Descartes, Unité Régulation de la Transcription de Maladies Génétique, 45 rue des Saints Pères, 75270 Paris Cedex 06, France

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Cancer 2011, 11:333  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-333

Published: 3 August 2011



Nucleolin expressed at the cell surface is a binding protein for a variety of ligands implicated in tumorigenesis and angiogenesis. By using a specific antagonist that binds the C-terminal RGG domain of nucleolin, the HB-19 pseudopeptide, we recently reported that targeting surface nucleolin with HB-19 suppresses progression of established human breast tumor cells in the athymic nude mice, and delays development of spontaneous melanoma in the RET transgenic mice.


By the capacity of HB-19 to bind stably surface nucleolin, we purified and identified nucleolin partners at the cell surface. HB-19 and related multivalent Nucant pseudopeptides, that present pentavalently or hexavalently the tripeptide Lysψ(CH2N)-Pro-Arg, were then used to show that targeting surface nucleolin results in distinct inhibitory mechanisms on breast, prostate, colon carcinoma and leukemia cells.


Surface nucleolin exists in a 500-kDa protein complex including several other proteins, which we identified by microsequencing as two Wnt related proteins, Ku86 autoantigen, signal recognition particle subunits SRP68/72, the receptor for complement component gC1q-R, and ribosomal proteins S4/S6. Interestingly, some of the surface-nucleolin associated proteins are implicated in cell signaling, tumor cell adhesion, migration, invasion, cell death, autoimmunity, and bacterial infections. Surface nucleolin in the 500-kDa complex is highly stable. Surface nucleolin antagonists, HB-19 and related multivalent Nucant pseudopeptides, exert distinct inhibitory mechanisms depending on the malignant tumor cell type. For example, in epithelial tumor cells they inhibit cell adhesion or spreading and induce reversion of the malignant phenotype (BMC cancer 2010, 10:325) while in leukemia cells they trigger a rapid cell death associated with DNA fragmentation. The fact that these pseudopeptides do not cause cell death in epithelial tumor cells indicates that cell death in leukemia cells is triggered by a specific signaling mechanism, rather than nonspecific cellular injury.


Our results suggest that targeting surface nucleolin could change the organization of the 500-kDa complex to interfere with the proper functioning of surface nucleolin and the associated proteins, and thus lead to distinct inhibitory mechanisms. Consequently, HB-19 and related Nucant pseudopeptides provide novel therapeutic opportunities in treatment of a wide variety of cancers and related malignancies.

antitumoral action; surface nucleolin; multivalent pseudopeptides; nucleolin antagonist peptide; anti-inflammatory action; nucleophosmin