An image-based small-molecule screen identifies vimentin as a pharmacologically relevant target of simvastatin in cancer cells

FASEB J. 2018 May;32(5):2841-2854. doi: 10.1096/fj.201700663R. Epub 2018 Jan 18.


Vimentin is a cytoskeletal intermediate filament protein that is expressed in mesenchymal cells and cancer cells during the epithelial-mesenchymal transition. The goal of this study was to identify vimentin-targeting small molecules by using the Tocriscreen library of 1120 biochemically active compounds. We monitored vimentin filament reorganization and bundling in adrenal carcinoma SW13 vimentin-positive (SW13-vim+) cells via indirect immunofluorescence. The screen identified 18 pharmacologically diverse hits that included 2 statins-simvastatin and mevastatin. Simvastatin induced vimentin reorganization within 15-30 min and significant perinuclear bundling within 60 min (IC50 = 6.7 nM). Early filament reorganization coincided with increased vimentin solubility. Mevastatin produced similar effects at >1 µM, whereas the structurally related pravastatin and lovastatin did not affect vimentin. In vitro vimentin filament assembly assays revealed a direct targeting mechanism, as determined biochemically and by electron microscopy. In SW13-vim+ cells, simvastatin, but not pravastatin, reduced total cell numbers (IC50 = 48.1 nM) and promoted apoptosis after 24 h. In contrast, SW13-vim- cell viability was unaffected by simvastatin, unless vimentin was ectopically expressed. Simvastatin similarly targeted vimentin filaments and induced cell death in MDA-MB-231 (vim+), but lacked effect in MCF7 (vim-) breast cancer cells. In conclusion, this study identified vimentin as a direct molecular target that mediates simvastatin-induced cell death in 2 different cancer cell lines.-Trogden, K. P., Battaglia, R. A., Kabiraj, P., Madden, V. J., Herrmann, H., Snider, N. T. An image-based small-molecule screen identifies vimentin as a pharmacologically relevant target of simvastatin in cancer cells.

Keywords: cytoskeleton; drug screen; intermediate filaments; statin.

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

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / ultrastructure
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / ultrastructure
  • Cell Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lovastatin / analogs & derivatives
  • Lovastatin / pharmacology
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Neoplasm Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Simvastatin / pharmacology*
  • Vimentin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Vimentin / metabolism*


  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Vimentin
  • mevastatin
  • Lovastatin
  • Simvastatin