Molecular cancer therapeutics

Sunitinib and SU11652 inhibit acid sphingomyelinase, destabilize lysosomes, and inhibit multidrug resistance.

PMID 23920274


Defective apoptosis signaling and multidrug resistance are major barriers for successful cancer treatment. To identify drugs capable of targeting treatment-resistant cancer cells, we screened small-molecule kinase inhibitor libraries for compounds that decrease the viability of apoptosis-resistant human MCF7-Bcl-2 breast cancer cells. SU11652, a multitargeting receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor, emerged as the most potent compound in the screen. In addition to MCF7-Bcl-2 cells, it effectively killed HeLa cervix carcinoma, U-2-OS osteosarcoma, Du145 prostate carcinoma, and WEHI-S fibrosarcoma cells at low micromolar concentration. SU11652 accumulated rapidly in lysosomes and disturbed their pH regulation and ultrastructure, eventually leading to the leakage of lysosomal proteases into the cytosol. Lysosomal destabilization was preceded by an early inhibition of acid sphingomyelinase, a lysosomal lipase that promotes lysosomal membrane stability. Accordingly, Hsp70, which supports cancer cell survival by increasing lysosomal acid sphingomyelinase activity, conferred partial protection against SU11652-induced cytotoxicity. Remarkably, SU11652 killed multidrug-resistant Du145 prostate cancer cells as effectively as the drug-sensitive parental cells, and subtoxic concentrations of SU11652 effectively inhibited multidrug-resistant phenotype in Du145 prostate cancer cells. Notably, sunitinib, a structurally almost identical and widely used antiangiogenic cancer drug, exhibited similar lysosome-dependent cytotoxic activity, albeit with significantly lower efficacy. The significantly stronger lysosome-targeting activity of SU11652 suggests that it may display better efficacy in cancer treatment than sunitinib, encouraging further evaluation of its anticancer activity in vivo. Furthermore, our data provide a rationale for novel approaches to target drug-resistant cancers by combining classic chemotherapy with sunitinib or SU11652.