Multidrug resistance (MDR) caused by the overexpression of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters in cancer cells is a major obstacle in cancer chemotherapy. Previous studies have shown that curcumin, a natural product and a dietary constituent of turmeric, inhibits the function of MDR-related ABC transporters, including ABCB1, ABCC1, and especially ABCG2. However, the limited bioavailability of curcumin prevents its use for modulation of the function of these transporters in the clinical setting. In this study, we investigated the effects of 24 synthetic curcumin analogs with increased bioavailability on the transport function of ABCG2. The screening of the 24 synthetic analogs by means of flow cytometry revealed that four of the curcumin analogs (GO-Y030, GO-Y078, GO-Y168, and GO-Y172) significantly inhibited the efflux of the ABCG2 substrates, mitoxantrone and pheophorbide A, from ABCG2-overexpressing K562/breast cancer resistance protein (BCRP) cells. Biochemical analyses showed that GO-Y030, GO-Y078, and GO-Y172 stimulated the ATPase activity of ABCG2 at nanomolar concentrations and inhibited the photolabeling of ABCG2 with iodoarylazidoprazosin, suggesting that these analogs interact with the substrate-binding sites of ABCG2. In addition, when used in cytotoxicity assays, GO-Y030 and GO-Y078 were found to improve the sensitivity of the anticancer drug, SN-38, in K562/BCRP cells. Taken together, these results suggest that nontoxic synthetic curcumin analogs with increased bioavailability, especially GO-Y030 and GO-Y078, inhibit the function of ABCG2 by directly interacting at the substrate-binding site. These synthetic curcumin analogs could therefore be developed as potent modulators to overcome ABCG2-mediated MDR in cancer cells.
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