The differentiation-inducing factor-1 (DIF-1) is a lipophilic signal molecule (chlorinated alkylphenone) that induces stalk-cell differentiation in the cellular slime mould Dictyostelium discoideum. It has also been shown that DIF-1 and its derivative (DIF-3) suppress cell growth in mammalian tumor cells. In the present study, in order to assess the chemical structure-effect relationship of DIF derivatives and to develop useful agents for the study of both Dictyostelium development and cancer biology, we synthesized 28 analogues of DIF-1 and DIF-3 and investigated their stalk-cell-inducing activity in Dictyostelium HM44 cells (mutant strain) and anti-proliferative activity in human leukemia K562 cells. HM44 cells are defective in endogenous DIF-1 production and should be suitable for the assay for stalk-cell-inducing activity of DIF analogues. DIF-1 and some of its derivatives at nanomolar levels were good stalk-cell inducers in HM44 cells, whereas DIF-3 and some DIF-3 derivatives at micromolar levels were potent anti-proliferative agents in K562 cells. We also tried to search for antagonistic molecules against DIF-1 and DIF-3 but failed to find such molecules from the analogues used here. The present findings would give us hints for identifying the target molecule(s) of DIFs and also for developing novel anti-cancer drugs.
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