A Cell-Permeant Amiloride Derivative Induces Caspase-Independent, AIF-mediated Programmed Necrotic Death of Breast Cancer Cells

PLoS One. 2013 Apr 30;8(4):e63038. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063038. Print 2013.


Amiloride is a potassium-sparing diuretic that has been used as an anti-kaliuretic for the chronic management of hypertension and heart failure. Several studies have identified a potential anti-cancer role for amiloride, however the mechanisms underlying its anti-tumor effects remain to be fully delineated. Our group previously demonstrated that amiloride triggers caspase-independent cytotoxic cell death in human glioblastoma cell lines but not in primary astrocytes. To delineate the cellular mechanisms underlying amiloride's anti-cancer cytotoxicity, cell permeant and cell impermeant derivatives of amiloride were synthesized that exhibit markedly different potencies in cancer cell death assays. Here we compare the cytotoxicities of 5-benzylglycinyl amiloride (UCD38B) and its free acid 5-glycinyl amiloride (UCD74A) toward human breast cancer cells. UCD74A exhibits poor cell permeability and has very little cytotoxic activity, while UCD38B is cell permeant and induces the caspase-independent death of proliferating and non-proliferating breast cancer cells. UCD38B treatment of human breast cancer cells promotes autophagy reflected in LC3 conversion, and induces the dramatic swelling of the endoplasmic reticulum, however these events do not appear to be the cause of cell death. Surprisingly, UCD38B but not UCD74A induces efficient AIF translocation from the mitochondria to the nucleus, and AIF function is necessary for the efficient induction of cancer cell death. Our observations indicate that UCD38B induces programmed necrosis through AIF translocation, and suggest that its cytosolic accessibility may facilitate drug action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amiloride / analogs & derivatives*
  • Amiloride / chemistry
  • Amiloride / pharmacology*
  • Amiloride / toxicity
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis Inducing Factor / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calpain / metabolism
  • Caspases / metabolism*
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Membrane Permeability*
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / drug effects
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Glycine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glycine / chemistry
  • Glycine / pharmacology
  • Glycine / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Protein Transport


  • 5-benzylglycinyl amiloride
  • Apoptosis Inducing Factor
  • Amiloride
  • Calpain
  • Caspases
  • Calcium
  • Glycine