Siramesine triggers cell death through destabilisation of mitochondria, but not lysosomes
A sigma-2 receptor agonist siramesine has been shown to trigger cell death of cancer cells and to exhibit a potent anticancer activity in vivo. However, its mechanism of action is still poorly understood. We show that siramesine can induce rapid cell death in a number of cell lines at concentrations above 20 μM. In HaCaT cells, cell death was accompanied by caspase activation, rapid loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), cytochrome c release, cardiolipin peroxidation and typical apoptotic morphology, whereas in U-87MG cells most apoptotic hallmarks were not notable, although MMP was rapidly lost. In contrast to the rapid loss of MMP above 20 μM siramesine, a rapid increase in lysosomal pH was observed at all concentrations tested (5–40 μM); however, it was not accompanied by lysosomal membrane permeabilisation (LMP) and the release of lysosomal enzymes into the cytosol. Increased lysosomal pH reduced the lysosomal degradation potential as indicated by the accumulation of immature forms of cysteine cathepsins. The lipophilic antioxidant α-tocopherol, but not the hydrophilic antioxidant N-acetyl-cysteine, considerably reduced cell death and destabilisation of mitochondrial membranes, but did not prevent the increase in lysosomal pH. At concentrations below 15 μM, siramesine triggered cell death after 2 days or later, which seems to be associated with a general metabolic and energy imbalance due to defects in the endocytic pathway, intracellular trafficking and energy production, and not by a specific molecular event. Overall, we show that cell death in siramesine-treated cells is induced by destabilisation of mitochondria and is independent of LMP and the release of cathepsins into the cytosol. Moreover, it is unlikely that siramesine acts exclusively through sigma-2 receptors, but rather through multiple molecular targets inside the cell. Our findings are therefore of significant importance in designing the next generation of siramesine analogues with high anticancer potential.