Mitochondrial copper depletion suppresses triple-negative breast cancer in mice

Liyang Cui, Arvin M Gouw, Edward L LaGory, Shenghao Guo, Nabeel Attarwala, Yao Tang, Ji Qi, Yun-Sheng Chen, Zhou Gao, Kerriann M Casey, Arkadiy A Bazhin, Min Chen, Leeann Hu, Jinghang Xie, Mingxi Fang, Cissy Zhang, Qihua Zhu, Zhiyuan Wang, Amato J Giaccia, Sanjiv Sam GambhirWeiping Zhu, Dean W Felsher, Mark D Pegram, Elena A Goun, Anne Le, Jianghong Rao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Depletion of mitochondrial copper, which shifts metabolism from respiration to glycolysis and reduces energy production, is known to be effective against cancer types that depend on oxidative phosphorylation. However, existing copper chelators are too toxic or ineffective for cancer treatment. Here we develop a safe, mitochondria-targeted, copper-depleting nanoparticle (CDN) and test it against triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). We show that CDNs decrease oxygen consumption and oxidative phosphorylation, cause a metabolic switch to glycolysis and reduce ATP production in TNBC cells. This energy deficiency, together with compromised mitochondrial membrane potential and elevated oxidative stress, results in apoptosis. CDNs should be less toxic than existing copper chelators because they favorably deprive copper in the mitochondria in cancer cells instead of systemic depletion. Indeed, we demonstrate low toxicity of CDNs in healthy mice. In three mouse models of TNBC, CDN administration inhibits tumor growth and substantially improves survival. The efficacy and safety of CDNs suggest the potential clinical relevance of this approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-367
Number of pages11
JournalNature Biotechnology
Issue number3
Early online dateOct 19 2020
StatePublished - Mar 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering


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