Open Access Open Badges Research article

Parthenolide and costunolide reduce microtentacles and tumor cell attachment by selectively targeting detyrosinated tubulin independent from NF-κB inhibition

Rebecca A Whipple1, Michele I Vitolo12, Amanda E Boggs3, Monica S Charpentier3, Keyata Thompson1 and Stuart S Martin123*

Author Affiliations

1 Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum NCI Cancer Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Bressler Bldg. Rm 10-29, 22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

2 Department of Physiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Bressler Bldg. Rm 10-29, 655 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

3 Program in Molecular Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Bressler Bldg. Rm 10-29, 655 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Breast Cancer Research 2013, 15:R83  doi:10.1186/bcr3477

Published: 13 September 2013



Detyrosinated tubulin, a post-translational modification of α-tubulin and a hallmark of stable microtubules, has gained recent attention given its association with tumor progression, invasiveness, and chemoresistance. We also recently reported that epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) promotes tubulin detyrosination through tubulin tyrosine ligase (TTL) suppression. Furthermore, detyrosinated tubulin-enriched membrane protrusions, termed microtentacles (McTN), facilitate tumor cell reattachment to endothelial layers. Given the induction of EMT associated with inflammation and cancer progression, we tested anti-inflammatory nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-κB) inhibitors on a panel of human breast carcinoma cells to examine their effects on detyrosinated tubulin to identify more specific tubulin-directed anti-cancer treatments.


Using metastatic human breast carcinoma cells MDA-MB-157, MDA-MB-436, and Bt-549, we measured the impact of NF-κB inhibitors parthenolide, costunolide, and resveratrol on detyrosinated tubulin using protein expression analysis and immunofluorescence. A luciferase reporter assay and a viability screen were performed to determine if the effects were associated with their NF-κB inhibitory properties or were a result of apoptosis. Real-time monitoring of cell-substratum attachment was measured utilizing electrical impedance across microelectronic sensor arrays. We compared the selectivity of the NF-κB inhibitors to specifically target detyrosinated tubulin with traditional tubulin-targeted therapeutics, paclitaxel and colchicine, throughout the study.


Sesquiterpene lactones, parthenolide and costunolide, selectively decrease detyrosinated tubulin independent of their inhibition of NF-κB. Live-cell scoring of suspended cells treated with parthenolide and costunolide show reduction in the frequency of microtentacles and inhibition of reattachment. Structural analysis shows that parthenolide and costunolide can decrease detyrosinated microtubules without significantly disrupting the overall microtubule network or cell viability. Paclitaxel and colchicine display indiscriminate disruption of the microtubule network.


Our data demonstrate that selective targeting of detyrosinated tubulin with parthenolide and costunolide can reduce McTN frequency and inhibit tumor cell reattachment. These actions are independent of their effects on NF-κB inhibition presenting a novel anti-cancer property and therapeutic opportunity to selectively target a stable subset of microtubules in circulating tumor cells to reduce metastatic potential with less toxicity in breast cancer patients.