Galactose-modified duocarmycin prodrugs as senolytics

Aging Cell. 2020 Apr;19(4):e13133. doi: 10.1111/acel.13133. Epub 2020 Mar 16.


Senescence is a stable growth arrest that impairs the replication of damaged, old or preneoplastic cells, therefore contributing to tissue homeostasis. Senescent cells accumulate during ageing and are associated with cancer, fibrosis and many age-related pathologies. Recent evidence suggests that the selective elimination of senescent cells can be effective on the treatment of many of these senescence-associated diseases. A universal characteristic of senescent cells is that they display elevated activity of the lysosomal β-galactosidase, and this has been exploited as a marker for senescence (senescence-associated β-galactosidase activity). Consequently, we hypothesized that galactose-modified cytotoxic prodrugs will be preferentially processed by senescent cells, resulting in their selective killing. Here, we show that different galactose-modified duocarmycin (GMD) derivatives preferentially kill senescent cells. GMD prodrugs induce selective apoptosis of senescent cells in a lysosomal β-galactosidase (GLB1)-dependent manner. GMD prodrugs can eliminate a broad range of senescent cells in culture, and treatment with a GMD prodrug enhances the elimination of bystander senescent cells that accumulate upon whole-body irradiation treatment of mice. Moreover, taking advantage of a mouse model of adamantinomatous craniopharyngioma (ACP), we show that treatment with a GMD prodrug selectively reduced the number of β-catenin-positive preneoplastic senescent cells. In summary, the above results make a case for testing the potential of galactose-modified duocarmycin prodrugs to treat senescence-related pathologies.

Keywords: duocarmycin; prodrug; senescence; senescence-associated β-galactosidase; senolytics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cellular Senescence / drug effects*
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Craniopharyngioma / drug therapy*
  • Craniopharyngioma / metabolism
  • Craniopharyngioma / pathology
  • Duocarmycins / pharmacology*
  • Galactose / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Prodrugs / pharmacology*
  • beta-Galactosidase / metabolism


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Duocarmycins
  • Prodrugs
  • GLB1 protein, human
  • beta-Galactosidase
  • Galactose