Background: Apoptolidin is a macrolide originally identified on the basis of its ability to selectively kill E1A and E1A/E1B19K transformed rat glial cells while not killing untransformed glial cells. The goal of this study was to identify the molecular target of this newly discovered natural product.
Results: Our approach to uncovering the mechanism of action of apoptolidin utilized a combination of molecular and cell-based pharmacological assays as well as structural comparisons between apoptolidin and other macrocyclic polyketides with known mechanism of action. Cell killing induced by apoptolidin was independent of p53 status, inhibited by BCL-2, and dependent on the action of caspase-9. PARP was completely cleaved in the presence of 1 microM apoptolidin within 6 h in a mouse lymphoma cell line. Together these results suggested that apoptolidin might target a mitochondrial protein. Structural comparisons between apoptolidin and other macrolides revealed significant similarity between the apoptolidin aglycone and oligomycin, a known inhibitor of mitochondrial F0F1-ATP synthase. The relevance of this similarity was established by demonstrating that apoptolidin is a potent inhibitor of the F0F1-ATPase activity in intact yeast mitochondria as well as Triton X-100-solubilized ATPase preparations. The K(i) for apoptolidin was 4-5 microM. The selectivity of apoptolidin in the NCI-60 cell line panel was found to correlate well with that of several known anti-fungal natural products that inhibit the eukaryotic mitochondrial F0F1-ATP synthase.
Significance: Although the anti-fungal activities of macrolide inhibitors of the mitochondrial F0F1-ATP synthase such as oligomycin, ossamycin and cytovaricin are well-documented, their unusual selectivity toward certain cell types is not widely appreciated. The recent discovery of apoptolidin, followed by the demonstration that it is an inhibitor of the mitochondrial F0F1-ATP synthase, highlights the potential relevance of these natural products as small molecules to modulate apoptotic pathways. The mechanistic basis for selective cytotoxicity of mitochondrial ATP synthase inhibitors is discussed.