Curcumin and its cyclohexanone analogue inhibited human Equilibrative nucleoside transporter 1 (ENT1) in pancreatic cancer cells

Our group investigated combining the phytochemical curcumin and gemcitabine in a liposome, to improve gemcitabine's activity against pancreatic tumours. While optimising the curcumin: gemcitabine ratio for co-encapsulation, we found that increasing curcumin concentrations relative to gemcitabine resulted in antagonistic interactions. As curcumin is a promiscuous transporter inhibitor; we suspected that increased resistance occurred via inhibition of Equilibrative nucleoside transporter 1 (ENT1)-mediated gemcitabine uptake. To test our hypothesis, we determined whether curcumin and a related analogue, 2,6-bis((3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenyl)methylene)-cyclohexanone (or A13), inhibited ENT1-mediated accumulation of [3H]uridine and [3H]gemcitabine into pancreatic cancer cells. We then confirmed the inhibition of gemcitabine accumulation by investigating whether curcumin/A13 could increase gemcitabine resistance in growth inhibition assays. We found that curcumin and A13 concentration-dependently inhibited the ENT1-mediated accumulation of both uridine and gemcitabine in MIA PaCa-2 and PANC-1 cells. We also found that non-toxic concentrations of curcumin and A13 significantly increased the resistance of both cell lines to gemcitabine. Increased resistance only occurred when curcumin/A13 was co-incubated with gemcitabine, and not with sequential exposure (i.e., curcumin first, followed by gemcitabine, or vice versa). We also found that the curcumin analogue (3E,5E)-3,5-bis[(2-fluorophenyl)methylene]-4-piperidinone (or EF24) did not inhibit gemcitabine accumulation, making it more suitable in combinations than curcumin/A13. From these results, we concluded that curcumin and A13 are inhibitors of the ENT1 transporter, but only at high concentrations (2-20µM). Curcumin is unlikely to inhibit gemcitabine uptake in tumours but may interfere with the oral absorption of ENT1 substrates due to high gut concentrations readily achievable from over-the-counter tablets/capsules.

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