Open Access Open Badges Research article

Peptide deformylase inhibitor actinonin reduces celastrol’s HSP70 induction while synergizing proliferation inhibition in tumor cells

Bin Peng1, Xue Zhang12, Fanfan Cao1, Ying Wang1, Limin Xu1, Lu Cao12, Chunxin Yang3, Maoquan Li4, Georges Uzan15 and Denghai Zhang15*

Author Affiliations

1 Sino-French Cooperative Central Lab, Shanghai Gongli Hospital, 207 Ju Ye Road, Pudong New District, Shanghai 200135, China

2 College of Clinical Laboratory Diagnostics, Ningxia Medical University, Yinchuan 750004, China

3 Pharmaceutical Department, Zhong Shan Hospital, Shanghai Fudan University, 136 Yi Xue Yuan Road, Shanghai 200032, China

4 Shanghai Tenth People’s Hospital, Tongji University, 307 Yan Chang Middle Road, Shanghai 200072, China

5 U972, Inserm, Bâtiment Lavoisier, Hôpital Paul Brousse, 12 avenue Paul Vaillant Couturier, 94807 Villejuif, Cedex France

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:146  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-146

Published: 4 March 2014



Celastrol is a promising anti-tumor agent, yet it also elevates heat shock proteins (HSPs), especially HSP70, this effect believed to reduce its anti-tumor effects. Concurrent use of siRNA to increase celastrol’s anti-tumor effects through HSP70 interference has been reported, but because siRNA technology is difficult to clinically apply, an alternative way to curb unwanted HSP70 elevation caused by celastrol treatment is worth exploring.


In this work, we explore three alternative strategies to control HSP70 elevation: (1) Searching for cancer cell types that show no HSP70 elevation in the presence of celastrol (thus recommending themselves as suitable targets); (2) Modifying HSP70-inducing chemical groups, i.e.: the carboxyl group in celastrol; and (3) Using signaling molecule inhibitors to specifically block HSP70 elevation while protecting and/or enhancing anti-tumor effects.


The first strategy was unsuccessful since celastrol treatment increased HSP70 in all 7 of the cancer cell types tested, this result related to HSF1 activation. The ubiquity of HSF1 expression in different cancer cells might explain why celastrol has no cell-type limitation for HSP70 induction. The second strategy revealed that modification of celastrol’s carboxyl group abolished its ability to elevate HSP70, but also abolished celastrol’s tumor inhibition effects. In the third strategy, 11 inhibitors for 10 signaling proteins reportedly related to celastrol action were tested, and five of these could reduce celastrol-caused HSP70 elevation. Among these, the peptide deformylase (PDF) inhibitor, actinonin, could synergize celastrol’s proliferation inhibition.


Concurrent use of the chemical agent actinonin could reduce celastrol’s HSP70 elevation and also enhance proliferation inhibition by celastrol. This combination presents a novel alternative to siRNA technology and is worth further investigation for its potentially effective anti-tumor action.