High dose acetaminophen inhibits STAT3 and has free radical independent anti-cancer stem cell activity

Pavani Pingali, Y. Jeffrey Wu, Rio Boothello, Chetna Sharon, Howard Li, Srinivas Sistla, Nehru Viji Sankaranarayanan, Umesh R. Desai, Anh T. Le, Robert C. Doebele, Leslie L. Muldoon, Bhaumik B. Patel, Alexander Neuwelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


High-dose acetaminophen (AAP) with delayed rescue using n-acetylcysteine (NAC), the FDA-approved antidote to AAP overdose, has demonstrated promising antitumor efficacy in early phase clinical trials. However, the mechanism of action (MOA) of AAP's anticancer effects remains elusive. Using clinically relevant AAP concentrations, we evaluated cancer stem cell (CSC) phenotype in vitro and in vivo in lung cancer and melanoma cells with diverse driver mutations. Associated mechanisms were also studied. Our results demonstrated that AAP inhibited 3D spheroid formation, self-renewal, and expression of CSC markers when human cancer cells were grown in serum-free CSC media. Similarly, anti-CSC activity was demonstrated in vivo in xenograft models - tumor formation following in vitro treatment and ex-vivo spheroid formation following in vivo treatment. Intriguingly, NAC, used to mitigate AAP's liver toxicity, did not rescue cells from AAP's anti-CSC effects, and AAP failed to reduce glutathione levels in tumor xenograft in contrast to mice liver tissue suggesting nonglutathione-related MOA. In fact, AAP mediates its anti-CSC effect via inhibition of STAT3. AAP directly binds to STAT3 with an affinity in the low micromolar range and a high degree of specificity for STAT3 relative to STAT1. These findings have high immediate translational significance concerning advancing AAP with NAC rescue to selectively rescue hepatotoxicity while inhibiting CSCs. The novel mechanism of selective STAT3 inhibition has implications for developing rational anticancer combinations and better patient selection (predictive biomarkers) for clinical studies and developing novel selective STAT3 inhibitors using AAP's molecular scaffold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)348-359
Number of pages12
JournalNeoplasia (United States)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Acetaminophen
  • Cancer stem cells
  • N-acetylcysteine
  • STAT3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'High dose acetaminophen inhibits STAT3 and has free radical independent anti-cancer stem cell activity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this