Loperamide, pimozide, and STF-62247 trigger autophagy-dependent cell death in glioblastoma cells

Cell Death Dis. 2018 Sep 24;9(10):994. doi: 10.1038/s41419-018-1003-1.


Autophagy is a well-described degradation mechanism that promotes cell survival upon nutrient starvation and other forms of cellular stresses. In addition, there is growing evidence showing that autophagy can exert a lethal function via autophagic cell death (ACD). As ACD has been implicated in apoptosis-resistant glioblastoma (GBM), there is a high medical need for identifying novel ACD-inducing drugs. Therefore, we screened a library containing 70 autophagy-inducing compounds to induce ATG5-dependent cell death in human MZ-54 GBM cells. Here, we identified three compounds, i.e. loperamide, pimozide, and STF-62247 that significantly induce cell death in several GBM cell lines compared to CRISPR/Cas9-generated ATG5- or ATG7-deficient cells, pointing to a death-promoting role of autophagy. Further cell death analyses conducted using pharmacological inhibitors revealed that apoptosis, ferroptosis, and necroptosis only play minor roles in loperamide-, pimozide- or STF-62247-induced cell death. Intriguingly, these three compounds induce massive lipidation of the autophagy marker protein LC3B as well as the formation of LC3B puncta, which are characteristic of autophagy. Furthermore, loperamide, pimozide, and STF-62247 enhance the autophagic flux in parental MZ-54 cells, but not in ATG5 or ATG7 knockout (KO) MZ-54 cells. In addition, loperamide- and pimozide-treated cells display a massive formation of autophagosomes and autolysosomes at the ultrastructural level. Finally, stimulation of autophagy by all three compounds is accompanied by dephosphorylation of mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), a well-known negative regulator of autophagy. In summary, our results indicate that loperamide, pimozide, and STF-62247 induce ATG5- and ATG7-dependent cell death in GBM cells, which is preceded by a massive induction of autophagy. These findings emphasize the lethal function and potential clinical relevance of hyperactivated autophagy in GBM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Autophagosomes / metabolism
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology
  • Brain Neoplasms / ultrastructure
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Endosomes / metabolism
  • Glioblastoma / metabolism*
  • Glioblastoma / pathology
  • Glioblastoma / ultrastructure
  • HT29 Cells
  • Humans
  • Loperamide / pharmacology*
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1 / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Pimozide / pharmacology*
  • Pyridines / pharmacology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology*


  • MAP1LC3B protein, human
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Pyridines
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • STF 62247
  • Thiazoles
  • Pimozide
  • Loperamide
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases