Unique Anti-Glioblastoma Activities of Hypericin Are at the Crossroad of Biochemical and Epigenetic Events and Culminate in Tumor Cell Differentiation

Naama Dror, Mathilda Mandel, Gad Lavie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Failure of conventional therapies to alleviate glioblastoma (GBM) fosters search for novel therapeutic strategies. These include epigenetic modulators as histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi), which relax abnormally compact tumor cell chromatin organization, enabling cells to overcome blockage in differentiation. However, in clinical settings, HDACi efficacy is confined to subsets of hematologic malignancies. We reasoned that molecules targeting multiple epigenetic mechanisms may exhibit superior anti-cancer activities. We focused on the redox perylene-quinone Hypericin (HYP) and showed that HYP targets Hsp90 for polyubiquitination, degradation and inactivation. Hsp90 is implicated in mediating inheritable epigenetic modifications transferable to progeny. We therefore examined if HYP can induce epigenetic alterations in GBM cells and show here that HYP indeed, targets multiple mechanisms in human glioblastoma tumor cell lines via unique manners. These elicit major epigenetic signature changes in key developmentally regulated genes. HYP induces neuroglial tumor cell differentiation modulating the cytoarchitecture, neuroglial differentiation antigen expression and causes exit from cell proliferation cycles. Such activities characterize HDACi however HYP is not an HDAC inhibitor. Instead, HYP effectively down-regulates expression of Class-I HDACs, creating marked deficiencies in HDACs cellular contents, leading to histones H3 and H4 hyperacetylation. Expression of EZH2, the Polycomb repressor complex-2 catalytic subunit, which trimethylates histone H3K27 is also suppressed. The resulting histone hyperacetylation and diminished H3K27-trimethylation relax chromatin structure, activating gene transcription including differentiation-promoting genes. DNMT profiles are also modulated increasing global DNA methylation. HYP induces unique epigenetic down-regulations of HDACs, EZH2 and DNMTs, remodeling chromatin structure and culminating in tumor cell differentiation. These modulations generate clinically significant anti-GBM effects obtained in a clinical trial performed in patients with recurrent, progressive disease. Despite this advanced disease stage, patients responded to HYP, displaying stable disease and partial responses; patients on compassionate therapy survived for up to 34 months. Hypericin may constitute a novel anti-glioblastoma therapeutic paradigm.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere73625
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
StatePublished - 16 Sep 2013


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