Overexpression of Na +/H + exchanger 1 specifically induces cell death in human iPS cells via sustained activation of the Rho kinase ROCK

J Biol Chem. 2019 Dec 20;294(51):19577-19588. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.010329. Epub 2019 Nov 13.


Understanding the specific properties of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) is important for quality control of iPSCs. Having incidentally discovered that overexpression of plasma membrane Na+/H+ exchanger 1 (NHE1) induces cell death in iPSCs, we investigated the mechanism of NHE1-induced cell death. Doxycycline-induced NHE1 overexpression arrested cell growth, and nearly all cells were killed by a necrotic process within 72 h. NHE1 overexpression led to sustained activation of Rho-associated coiled-coil kinase (ROCK), accompanied by dramatic changes in cell shape, cell elongation, and swelling of peripheral cells in iPSC colonies, as well as marked stress fiber formation. The ROCK inhibitor Y27632 reduced NHE1-induced cell death. ROCK-dependent phenotypes were suppressed by a loss-of-function mutation of NHE1 and inhibited by an inhibitor of NHE1 activity, indicating that NHE1-mediated transport activity is required. Moreover, ROCK was activated by trimethylamine treatment-mediated cytosolic alkalinization and accumulated in the plasma membrane near NHE1 in peripheral iPSCs of cell colonies. By contrast, cell death did not occur in mesendoderm-like cells that had differentiated from iPSCs, indicating that the NHE1-mediated effects were specific for iPSCs. These results suggest that NHE1 overexpression specifically induces death of iPSCs via sustained ROCK activation, probably caused by an increase in local pH near NHE1. Finally, monensin, a Na+/H+ exchange ionophore, selectively killed iPSCs, suggesting that monensin could help eliminate iPSCs that remain after differentiation, a strategy that might be useful for improving regenerative medicine.

Keywords: NHE1; ROCK; Rho (Rho-GTPase); cell death; cell differentiation; cell motility; induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS cell) (iPSC); pH regulation; protein kinase; sodium–proton exchange.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amides / pharmacology
  • Cell Death*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Survival
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Endoderm / cytology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Mesoderm / cytology
  • Methylamines / pharmacology
  • Necrosis
  • Phosphorylation
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchanger 1 / metabolism*
  • rho-Associated Kinases / metabolism*


  • Amides
  • Methylamines
  • Pyridines
  • SLC9A1 protein, human
  • Sodium-Hydrogen Exchanger 1
  • Y 27632
  • ROCK1 protein, human
  • rho-Associated Kinases
  • trimethylamine