Small-molecule TFEB pathway agonists that ameliorate metabolic syndrome in mice and extend C. elegans lifespan

Nat Commun. 2017 Dec 22;8(1):2270. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-02332-3.


Drugs that mirror the cellular effects of starvation mimics are considered promising therapeutics for common metabolic disorders, such as obesity, liver steatosis, and for ageing. Starvation, or caloric restriction, is known to activate the transcription factor EB (TFEB), a master regulator of lipid metabolism and lysosomal biogenesis and function. Here, we report a nanotechnology-enabled high-throughput screen to identify small-molecule agonists of TFEB and discover three novel compounds that promote autophagolysosomal activity. The three lead compounds include the clinically approved drug, digoxin; the marine-derived natural product, ikarugamycin; and the synthetic compound, alexidine dihydrochloride, which is known to act on a mitochondrial target. Mode of action studies reveal that these compounds activate TFEB via three distinct Ca2+-dependent mechanisms. Formulation of these compounds in liver-tropic biodegradable, biocompatible nanoparticles confers hepatoprotection against diet-induced steatosis in murine models and extends lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans. These results support the therapeutic potential of small-molecule TFEB activators for the treatment of metabolic and age-related disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagosomes / drug effects
  • Autophagosomes / metabolism
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / agonists*
  • Biguanides / pharmacology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Digoxin / pharmacology*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Liver / metabolism
  • HeLa Cells
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Humans
  • Lactams / pharmacology*
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Longevity / drug effects*
  • Lysosomes / drug effects
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Starvation


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • Biguanides
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Lactams
  • Tcfeb protein, mouse
  • ikarugamycin
  • Digoxin
  • alexidine
  • Calcium