Toxic effects of the anticancer drug epirubicin in vitro assayed in human erythrocytes

Karla Petit, Mario Suwalsky, José R. Colina, David Contreras, Luis F. Aguilar, Malgorzata Jemiola-Rzeminska, Kazimierz Strzalka

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6 Scopus citations


Epirubicin is a cytotoxic drug used in the treatment of different types of cancer and increasing evidence suggests that its target is cell membranes. In order to gain insight on its toxic effects, intact red blood cells (RBC), human erythrocyte membranes and molecular models were used. The latter consisted in bilayers of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC) and dimyristoylphosphatidylethanolamine (DMPE), phospholipid classes found mainly in the outer and inner monolayers of the human erythrocyte membrane, respectively. The results obtained by X-ray diffraction displayed that epirubicin induced structural perturbations in multilayers of DMPC. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) showed that epirubicin disturbed the thermotropic behavior of both DMPC and DMPE vesicles, whereas fluorescence spectroscopy demonstrated alterations in the fluidity of DMPC vesicles and the erythrocyte membrane. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) revealed that epirubicin changed the normal discoid form of RBC to echinocytes and stomatocytes. Electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) disclosed that this drug induced conformational changes in the erythrocyte membrane proteins. These findings demonstrate that epirubicin interacts with lipids and proteins of the human erythrocyte membrane, effects that might compromise the integrity and function of cell membranes. This is the first time that its toxic effects on the human erythrocyte membrane have been described.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104964
JournalToxicology in Vitro
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Epirubicin
  • Erythrocyte membrane
  • Phospholipid bilayer
  • Toxicity


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