Certain metal complexes can have a great antitumor activity, as the use of cisplatin in therapy has been demonstrating for the past fifty years. Copper complexes, in particular, have attracted much attention as an example of anticancer compounds based on an endogenous metal. In this paper we present the synthesis and the activity of a series of copper(II) complexes with variously substituted salicylaldehyde thiosemicarbazone ligands. The in vitro activity of both ligands and copper complexes was assessed on a panel of cell lines (HCT-15, LoVo and LoVo oxaliplatin resistant colon carcinoma, A375 melanoma, BxPC3 and PSN1 pancreatic adenocarcinoma, BCPAP thyroid carcinoma, 2008 ovarian carcinoma, HEK293 non-transformed embryonic kidney), highlighting remarkable activity of the metal complexes, in some cases in the low nanomolar range. The copper(II) complexes were also screened, with good results, against 3D spheroids of colon (HCT-15) and pancreatic (PSN1) cancer cells. Detailed investigations on the mechanism of action of the copper(II) complexes are also reported: they are able to potently inhibit Protein Disulfide Isomerase, a copper-binding protein, that is recently emerging as a new therapeutic target for cancer treatment. Good preliminary results obtained in C57BL mice indicate that this series of metal-based compounds could be a very promising weapon in the fight against cancer.
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