Impairment of lysosomal integrity by B10, a glycosylated derivative of betulinic acid, leads to lysosomal cell death and converts autophagy into a detrimental process

Cell Death Differ. 2012 Aug;19(8):1337-46. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2012.10. Epub 2012 Feb 17.


In this study, we report a novel mechanism of action for a cytotoxic derivative of betulinic acid (BA). B10 is a semi-synthetic glycosylated derivative of BA selected for its enhanced cytotoxic activity. Interestingly, although B10 induces apoptosis, caspase-3 downregulation incompletely prevents B10-induced cell death, Bcl-2 overexpression fails to protect cells and DNA fragmentation rates do not reflect cell death rates in contrast to cytoplasmic membrane permeabilization. These results implicate that apoptotic and non-apoptotic cell death coexist upon B10 treatment. Unexpectedly, we found that B10 induces autophagy and also abrogates the autophagic flux. B10 destabilizes lysosomes as shown by Lysotracker Red staining and by cathepsin Z and B release from lysosomes into the cytoplasm. Consistently, the cathepsin inhibitor Ca074Me significantly decreases B10-induced cell death, further supporting the fact that the release of lysosomal enzymes contributes to B10-triggered cell death. Downregulation of ATG7, ATG5 or BECN1 by RNAi significantly decreases caspase-3 activation, lysosomal permeabilization and cell death. Thus, by concomitant induction of autophagy and inhibition of the autophagic flux, B10 turns autophagy into a cell death mechanism. These findings have important implications for the therapeutic exploitation of BA derivatives, particularly in apoptosis-resistant cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Autophagy / genetics
  • Autophagy / physiology
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Death / genetics
  • Cell Line
  • Down-Regulation
  • Glucosides / pharmacology*
  • Glycosylation
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / drug effects*
  • Lysosomes / genetics
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Pentacyclic Triterpenes
  • Transfection
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology*


  • 28-O-acetylbetulin-3-ylglucopyranoside
  • Glucosides
  • Pentacyclic Triterpenes
  • Triterpenes
  • betulinic acid