Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry

First Advisor

Dr. Chunming Liu

Second Advisor

Dr. David S. Watt


Aurones belong to an uncommon class of plant flavonoids that provide the bright yellow coloration of some ornamental flowers and that possess a range of biological activities. Structure-activity relationships (SAR) in the aurone pharmacophore identified heterocyclic variants of the (Z)-2-benzylidene-6-hydroxybenzofuran-3(2H)-one scaffold that possessed low nanomolar in vitro potency in cell proliferation assays using various cancer cell lines, in vivo potency in prostate cancer PC-3 xenograft and zebrafish models, selectivity for the colchicine-binding site on tubulin, and absence of appreciable toxicity. Among the biologically active analogs developed in the course of this dissertation work were (Z)-2-((2-((1-ethyl-5-methoxy-1H-indol-3-yl)methylene)-3-oxo-2,3-dihydrobenzofuran-6-yl)oxy)acetonitrile (5a) and (Z)-6-((2,6-dichlorobenzyl)oxy)-2-(pyridin-4-ylmethylene)benzofuran-3(2H)-one (5r). These two aurones 5a and 5r inhibited in vitro PC-3 prostate cancer cell proliferation with IC50 values below 100 nM. A xenograft study in nude mice using 10 mg/kg of 5a for 18 days had no effect on mice weight, and aurone 5a did not inhibit, as desired, the human ether-à-go-go-related (hERG) potassium channel. Cell cycle arrest data, comparisons of the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation by aurones and known antineoplastic agents, and in vitro inhibition of tubulin polymerization indicated that aurone 5a disrupted tubulin dynamics. Based on a National Cancer Institute COMPARE analysis, studies using computer-based molecular docking and liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry studies, aurone 5a targets the colchicine-binding site on tubulin. In addition to solid tumors, aurones 5a and 5r strongly inhibited in vitro a panel of human leukemia cancer cell lines and the in vivo myc-induced T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) in a zebrafish model. In summary, aurones possess a pharmacophore of considerable potential in the search for new antineoplastic agents for the clinical treatment of human cancers.

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