Unraveling the mechanism of cell death induced by chemical fibrils

Olivier Julien, Martin Kampmann, Michael C. Bassik, Julie A. Zorn, Vincent J. Venditto, Kazutaka Shimbo, Nicholas J. Agard, Kenichi Shimada, Arnold L. Rheingold, Brent R. Stockwell, Jonathan S. Weissman, James A. Wells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


We previously discovered a small-molecule inducer of cell death, named 1541, that noncovalently self-assembles into chemical fibrils ('chemi-fibrils') and activates procaspase-3 in vitro. We report here that 1541-induced cell death is caused by the fibrillar rather than the soluble form of the drug. A short hairpin RNA screen reveals that knockdown of genes involved in endocytosis, vesicle trafficking and lysosomal acidification causes partial 1541 resistance. We confirm the role of these pathways using pharmacological inhibitors. Microscopy shows that the fluorescent chemi-fibrils accumulate in punctae inside cells that partially colocalize with lysosomes. Notably, the chemi-fibrils bind and induce liposome leakage in vitro, suggesting they may do the same in cells. The chemi-fibrils induce extensive proteolysis including caspase substrates, yet modulatory profiling reveals that chemi-fibrils form a distinct class from existing inducers of cell death. The chemi-fibrils share similarities with proteinaceous fibrils and may provide insight into their mechanism of cellular toxicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)969-976
Number of pages8
JournalNature Chemical Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank F. Brodsky, B. Shoichet, W. Degrado, M. Zhuang, A. Wiita, Z. Hill, J.T. Koerber, N. Thomsen, J. Watts, S.-A. Mok and J. Rettenmaier for insightful discussions and/or critical reading of the manuscript. A special thanks to Y. Chen (cell culture and laboratory practices expertise), Y. Cheng and M. Braunfield (EM), A. Doak (DLS), H. Tran (yeast expertise), D. Larsen (live cell imaging), J. Lund (deep sequencing), M. Hornsby and K. Verba (fluorescence) and T. Matsuguchi (qPCR) for technical help. This work was supported, in whole or in part, by US National Institutes of Health grant R01 CA136779 (to J.A.W.), R01 CA097061 (to B.R.S.) and F32AI095062 (to V.J.V.) and by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (to B.R.S. and J.S.W.). J.A.Z. received an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation Award and a Schleroderma Research Foundation Evnin-Wright Fellowship. M.K. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund. O.J. is the recipient of a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Government of Canada. O.J. and M.K. both received a fellowship from the University of California–San Francisco Program for Breakthrough Biomedical Research, which is funded in part by the Sandler Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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