• Artesunate induces cell death in human cancer cells via enhancing lysosomal function and lysosomal degradation of ferritin.

Artesunate induces cell death in human cancer cells via enhancing lysosomal function and lysosomal degradation of ferritin.

The Journal of biological chemistry (2014-10-12)
Nai-Di Yang, Shi-Hao Tan, Shukie Ng, Yin Shi, Jing Zhou, Kevin Shyong Wei Tan, Wai-Shiu Fred Wong, Han-Ming Shen

Artesunate (ART) is an anti-malaria drug that has been shown to exhibit anti-tumor activity, and functional lysosomes are reported to be required for ART-induced cancer cell death, whereas the underlying molecular mechanisms remain largely elusive. In this study, we aimed to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying ART-induced cell death. We first confirmed that ART induces apoptotic cell death in cancer cells. Interestingly, we found that ART preferably accumulates in the lysosomes and is able to activate lysosomal function via promotion of lysosomal V-ATPase assembly. Furthermore, we found that lysosomes function upstream of mitochondria in reactive oxygen species production. Importantly, we provided evidence showing that lysosomal iron is required for the lysosomal activation and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production induced by ART. Finally, we showed that ART-induced cell death is mediated by the release of iron in the lysosomes, which results from the lysosomal degradation of ferritin, an iron storage protein. Meanwhile, overexpression of ferritin heavy chain significantly protected cells from ART-induced cell death. In addition, knockdown of nuclear receptor coactivator 4, the adaptor protein for ferritin degradation, was able to block ART-mediated ferritin degradation and rescue the ART-induced cell death. In summary, our study demonstrates that ART treatment activates lysosomal function and then promotes ferritin degradation, subsequently leading to the increase of lysosomal iron that is utilized by ART for its cytotoxic effect on cancer cells. Thus, our data reveal a new mechanistic action underlying ART-induced cell death in cancer cells.

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