Potential of phenothiazines to synergistically block calmodulin and reactivate PP2A in cancer cells

Ganesh Babu Manoharan, Sunday Okutachi, Daniel Abankwa*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Phenothiazines (PTZ) were developed as inhibitors of monoamine neurotransmitter receptors, notably dopamine receptors. Because of this activity they have been used for decades as antipsychotic drugs. In addition, they possess significant anti-cancer properties and several attempts for their repurposing were made. However, their incompletely understood polypharmacology is challenging. Here we examined the potential of the PTZ fluphenazine (Flu) and its mustard derivative (Flu-M) to synergistically act on two cancer associated targets, calmodulin (CaM) and the tumor suppressor protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A). Both proteins are known to modulate the Ras- and MAPK-pathway, cell viability and features of cancer cell stemness. Consistently, we show that the combination of a CaM inhibitor and the PP2A activator DT-061 synergistically inhibited the 3D-spheroid formation of MDA-MB-231 (K-Ras-G13D), NCI-H358 (K-Ras-G12C) and A375 (B-raf-V600E) cancer cells, and increased apoptosis in MDA-MB-231. We reasoned that these activities remain combined in PTZ, which were the starting point for PP2A activator development, while several PTZ are known CaM inhibitors. We show that both Flu and Flu-M retained CaM inhibitory activity in vitro and in cells, with a higher potency of the mustard derivative in cells. In line with the CaM dependence of Ras plasma membrane organization, the mustard derivative potently reduced the functional membrane organization of oncogenic Ras, while DT-061 had a negligible effect. Like DT-061, both PTZ potently decreased c-MYC levels, a hallmark of PP2A activation. Benchmarking against the KRAS-G12C specific inhibitor AMG-510 in MIA PaCa-2 cells revealed a higher potency of Flu-M than combinations of DT-061 and a CaM inhibitor on MAPK-output and a strong effect on cell proliferation. While our study is limited, our results suggest that improved PTZ derivatives that retain both, their CaM inhibitory and PP2A activating properties, but have lost their neurological side-effects, may be interesting to pursue further as anti-cancer agents.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0268635
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5 5
Publication statusPublished - May 2022
Externally publishedYes


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