ATF6 supports lysosomal function in tumor cells to enable ER stress-activated macroautophagy and CMA: impact on mutant TP53 expression

Autophagy. 2024 Apr 9:1-14. doi: 10.1080/15548627.2024.2338577. Online ahead of print.


The inhibition of the unfolded protein response (UPR), which usually protects cancer cells from stress, may be exploited to potentiate the cytotoxic effect of drugs inducing ER stress. However, in this study, we found that ER stress and UPR activation by thapsigargin or tunicamycin promoted the lysosomal degradation of mutant (MUT) TP53 and that the inhibition of the UPR sensor ATF6, but not of ERN1/IRE1 or EIF2AK3/PERK, counteracted such an effect. ATF6 activation was indeed required to sustain the function of lysosomes, enabling the execution of chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA) as well as of macroautophagy, processes involved in the degradation of MUT TP53 in stressed cancer cells. At the molecular level, by pharmacological and genetic approaches, we demonstrated that the inhibition of ATF6 correlated with the activation of MTOR and with TFEB and LAMP1 downregulation in thapsigargin-treated MUT TP53 carrying cells. We hypothesize that the rescue of MUT TP53 expression by ATF6 inhibition, could further activate MTOR and maintain lysosomal dysfunction, further inhibiting MUT TP53 degradation, in a vicious circle. The findings of this study suggest that the presence of MUT TP53, which often exerts oncogenic properties, should be considered before approaching treatments combining ER stressors with ATF6 inhibitors against cancer cells, while it could represent a promising strategy against cancer cells that harbor WT TP53.

Keywords: ATF6; CMA; UPR; cathepsins; mutant TP53; thapsigargin.