Ciclopirox olamine inhibits mTORC1 signaling by activation of AMPK

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Graphical abstractCiclopirox olamine (CPX), an off-patent antifungal agent, has recently been identified as a potential anticancer agent. The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is a central controller of cell growth, proliferation and survival. Little is known about whether and how CPX executes its anticancer action by inhibiting mTOR. Here we show that CPX inhibited the phosphorylation of p70 S6 kinase 1 (S6K1) and eukaryotic initiation factor 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1), two downstream effector molecules of mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1), in a spectrum of human tumor cells, indicating that CPX inhibits mTORC1 signaling. Using rhabdomyosarcoma cells as an experimental model, we found that expression of constitutively active mTOR (E2419K) conferred resistance to CPX inhibition of cell proliferation, suggesting that CPX inhibition of mTORC1 contributed to its anticancer effect. In line with this, treatment with CPX inhibited tumor growth and concurrently suppressed mTORC1 signaling in RD xenografts. Mechanistically, CPX inhibition of mTORC1 was neither via inhibition of IGF-I receptor or phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K), nor by activation of phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN). Instead, CPX inhibition of mTORC1 was attributed to activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK)-tuberous sclerosis complexes (TSC)/raptor pathways. This is supported by the findings that CPX activated AMPK; inhibition of AMPK with Compound C or ectopic expression of dominant negative AMPKα partially prevented CPX from inhibiting mTORC1; silencing TSC2 attenuated CPX inhibition of mTORC1; and CPX also increased AMPK-mediated phosphorylation of raptor (S792). Therefore, the results indicate that CPX exerts the anticancer effect by activating AMPK, resulting in inhibition of mTORC1 signaling.

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