Heterogeneous off-target effects of ultra-low dose dimethyl sulfoxide (Dmso) on targetable signaling events in lung cancer in vitro models

Elisa Baldelli, Mahalakshmi Subramanian, Abduljalil M. Alsubaie, Guy Oldaker, Maria Emelianenko, Emna El Gazzah, Sara Baglivo, Kimberley A. Hodge, Fortunato Bianconi, Vienna Ludovini, Lucio Crino’, Emanuel F. Petricoin, Mariaelena Pierobon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Targetable alterations in cancer offer novel opportunities to the drug discovery process. However, pre-clinical testing often requires solubilization of these drugs in cosolvents like dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). Using a panel of cell lines commonly used for in vitro drug screening and pre-clinical testing, we explored the DMSO off-target effects on functional signaling networks, drug targets, and downstream substrates. Eight Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) cell lines were incubated with three concentrations of DMSO (0.0008%, 0.002%, and 0.004% v/v) over time. Expression and activation levels of 187 proteins, of which 137 were kinases and downstream substrates, were captured using the Reverse Phase Protein Array (RPPA). The DMSO effect was heterogeneous across cell lines and varied based on concentration, exposure time, and cell line. Of the 187 proteins measured, all were statistically different in at least one comparison at the highest DMSO concentra-tion, followed by 99.5% and 98.9% at lower concentrations. Only 46% of the proteins were found to be statistically different in more than 5 cell lines, indicating heterogeneous response across models. These cell line specific alterations modulate response to in vitro drug screening. Ultra-low DMSO concentrations have broad and heterogeneous effects on targetable signaling proteins. Off-target effects need to be carefully evaluated in pre-clinical drug screening and testing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2819
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Dimethyl sulfoxide effects
  • Drug targets
  • NSCLC cell lines
  • Pathway activation
  • Signal transduction


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