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Melanin as a target for melanoma chemotherapy: Pro-oxidant effect of oxygen and metals on melanoma viability


Melanoma cells have a poor ability to mediate oxidative stress, which may be attributed to constitutive abnormalities in their melanosomes. We hypothesize that disorganization of the melanosomes will allow chemical targeting of the melanin within. Chemical studies show that under oxidative conditions, synthetic melanins demonstrate increased metal affinity and a susceptibility to redox cycling with oxygen to form reactive oxygen species. The electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR)-active 5,5'-dimethyl-pyrollidine N-oxide spin adduct was used to show that binding of divalent Zn or Cu to melanin induces a pro-oxidant response under oxygen, generating superoxide and hydroxyl radicals. A similar pro-oxidant behaviour is seen in melanoma cell lines under external peroxide stress. Melanoma cultures grown under 95% O-2/5% CO2 atmospheres show markedly reduced viability as compared with normal melanocytes. Cu- and Zn-dithiocarbamate complexes, which induce passive uptake of the metal ions into cells, show significant antimelanoma activity. The antimelanoma effect of metal- and oxygen-induced stress appears additive rather than synergistic; both treatments are shown to be significantly less toxic to melanocytes.

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