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J Biol Chem. 2012 May 18;287(21):17530-45. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.359638. Epub 2012 Apr 2.

Structure-activity analysis of niclosamide reveals potential role for cytoplasmic pH in control of mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2350 Health Sciences Mall, Life Sciences Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z3, Canada.


Mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling is frequently dysregulated in cancer. Inhibition of mTORC1 is thus regarded as a promising strategy in the treatment of tumors with elevated mTORC1 activity. We have recently identified niclosamide (a Food and Drug Administration-approved antihelminthic drug) as an inhibitor of mTORC1 signaling. In the present study, we explored possible mechanisms by which niclosamide may inhibit mTORC1 signaling. We tested whether niclosamide interferes with signaling cascades upstream of mTORC1, the catalytic activity of mTOR, or mTORC1 assembly. We found that niclosamide does not impair PI3K/Akt signaling, nor does it inhibit mTORC1 kinase activity. We also found that niclosamide does not interfere with mTORC1 assembly. Previous studies in helminths suggest that niclosamide disrupts pH homeostasis of the parasite. This prompted us to investigate whether niclosamide affects the pH balance of cancer cells. Experiments in both breast cancer cells and cell-free systems demonstrated that niclosamide possesses protonophoric activity in cells and in vitro. In cells, niclosamide dissipated protons (down their concentration gradient) from lysosomes to the cytosol, effectively lowering cytoplasmic pH. Notably, analysis of five niclosamide analogs revealed that the structural features of niclosamide required for protonophoric activity are also essential for mTORC1 inhibition. Furthermore, lowering cytoplasmic pH by means other than niclosamide treatment (e.g. incubation with propionic acid or bicarbonate withdrawal) recapitulated the inhibitory effects of niclosamide on mTORC1 signaling, lending support to a possible role for cytoplasmic pH in the control of mTORC1. Our data illustrate a potential mechanism for chemical inhibition of mTORC1 signaling involving modulation of cytoplasmic pH.

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