Psychotropic Drugs Show Anticancer Activity by Disrupting Mitochondrial and Lysosomal Function

Background and Purpose: Drug repositioning is a promising strategy for discovering new therapeutic strategies for cancer therapy. We investigated psychotropic drugs for their antitumor activity because of several epidemiological studies reporting lower cancer incidence in individuals receiving long term drug treatment.

Experimental Approach: We investigated 27 psychotropic drugs for their cytotoxic activity in colorectal carcinoma, glioblastoma and breast cancer cell lines. Consistent with the cationic amphiphilic structure of the most cytotoxic compounds, we investigated their effect on mitochondrial and lysosomal compartments.

Results: Penfluridol, ebastine, pimozide and fluoxetine, fluspirilene and nefazodone showed significant cytotoxicity, in the low micromolar range, in all cell lines tested. In MCF7 cells these drugs caused mitochondrial membrane depolarization, increased the acidic vesicular compartments and induced phospholipidosis. Both penfluridol and spiperone induced AMPK activation and autophagy. Neither caspase nor autophagy inhibitors rescued cells from death induced by ebastine, fluoxetine, fluspirilene and nefazodone. Treatment with 3-methyladenine partially rescued cell death induced by pimozide and spiperone, whereas enhanced the cytotoxic activity of penfluridol. Conversely, inhibition of lysosomal cathepsins significantly reduced cell death induced by ebastin, penfluridol, pimozide, spiperone and mildly in fluoxetine treated cells. Lastly, Spiperone cytotoxicity was restricted to colorectal cancer and breast cancer and caused apoptotic cell death in MCF7 cells.

Conclusions: The cytotoxicity of psychotropic drugs with cationic amphiphilic structures relied on simultaneous mitochondrial and lysosomal disruption and induction of cell death that not necessarily requires apoptosis. Since dual targeting of lysosomes and mitochondria constitutes a new promising therapeutic approach for cancer, particularly those in which the apoptotic machinery is defective, these data further support their clinical development for cancer therapy.


Varalda M, Antona A, Bettio Va, Roy K, Vachamaram Aj, Yellenki V, Massarotti A, Baldanzi G, Capello D Psychotropic Drugs Show Anticancer Activity by Disrupting Mitochondrial and Lysosomal Function Front. Oncol 2020; 10: 562196

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