Lysosomal membrane permeabilization and subsequent cell death may prove useful in cancer treatment, provided that cancer cell lysosomes can be specifically targeted. Here, we identify acid sphingomyelinase (ASM) inhibition as a selective means to destabilize cancer cell lysosomes. Lysosome-destabilizing experimental anticancer agent siramesine inhibits ASM by interfering with the binding of ASM to its essential lysosomal cofactor, bis(monoacylglycero)phosphate. Like siramesine, several clinically relevant ASM inhibitors trigger cancer-specific lysosomal cell death, reduce tumor growth in vivo, and revert multidrug resistance. Their cancer selectivity is associated with transformation-associated reduction in ASM expression and subsequent failure to maintain sphingomyelin hydrolysis during drug exposure. Taken together, these data identify ASM as an attractive target for cancer therapy.
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