Inhibition of JNK increases the sensitivity of hepatocellular carcinoma cells to lysosomotropic drugs via LAMP2A destabilization

Cell Death Discov. 2021 Feb 8;7(1):29. doi: 10.1038/s41420-021-00408-0.


Alteration of lysosomal homeostasis is common in cancer cells, which often feature an enlarged and peripheral distributed lysosomal compartment and the overexpression of cathepsins. These alterations accelerate the production of building blocks for the de novo synthesis of macromolecules and contribute to the degradation of the extracellular matrix, thus contributing to tumor growth and invasion. At the same time, they make lysosomes more fragile and more prone to lysosomal membrane permeabilization, a condition that can cause the release of proteases into the cytosol and the activation of cell death. Therefore, lysosomes represent a weak spot of cancer cells that can be targeted for therapeutic purposes. Here, we identify a novel role of the kinase JNK as keeper of lysosomal stability in hepatocellular carcinoma cells. JNK inhibition reduces the stability of LAMP2A, a lysosomal membrane protein responsible for the stability of the lysosomal membrane, promoting its degradation by the proteasome. LAMP2A decrease enhances the lysosomal damage induced by lysosomotropic agents, ultimately leading to cell death. The effect is cancer-specific, as JNK inhibition does not decrease LAMP2A in non-tumoral liver cells and does not alter their sensitivity to lysosomotropic drugs. Our finding on the new role of JNK as cancer-specific keeper of lysosomal homeostasis lays the ground for future evaluation of the efficacy of the combination of JNK inhibition and lysosomotropic agents as a potential therapeutic strategy in hepatocellular carcinoma.