Repurposing Cationic Amphiphilic Drugs and Derivatives to Engage Lysosomal Cell Death in Cancer Treatment

Michelle Hu, Kermit L. Carraway

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A major confounding issue in the successful treatment of cancer is the existence of tumor cell populations that resist therapeutic agents and regimens. While tremendous effort has gone into understanding the biochemical mechanisms underlying resistance to each traditional and targeted therapeutic, a broader approach to the problem may emerge from the recognition that existing anti-cancer agents elicit their cytotoxic effects almost exclusively through apoptosis. Considering the myriad mechanisms cancer cells employ to subvert apoptotic death, an attractive alternative approach would leverage programmed necrotic mechanisms to side-step therapeutic resistance to apoptosis-inducing agents. Lysosomal cell death (LCD) is a programmed necrotic cell death mechanism that is engaged upon the compromise of the limiting membrane of the lysosome, a process called lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP). The release of lysosomal components into the cytosol upon LMP triggers biochemical cascades that lead to plasma membrane rupture and necrotic cell death. Interestingly, the process of cellular transformation appears to render the limiting lysosomal membranes of tumor cells more fragile than non-transformed cells, offering a potential therapeutic window for drug development. Here we outline the concepts of LMP and LCD, and discuss strategies for the development of agents to engage these processes. Importantly, the potential exists for existing cationic amphiphilic drugs such as antidepressants, antibiotics, antiarrhythmics, and diuretics to be repurposed to engage LCD within therapy-resistant tumor cell populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number605361
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
StatePublished - Dec 10 2020


  • cancer treatment
  • cationic amphiphilic drugs
  • lysosomal cell death
  • lysosomal membrane permeabilization
  • necrosis
  • therapeutic repurposing
  • therapeutic resistance
  • therapeutic targeting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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