Pyrazine ring-based Na+/H+ exchanger (NHE) inhibitors potently inhibit cancer cell growth in 3D culture, independent of NHE1

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The Na+/H+ exchanger-1 (NHE1) supports tumour growth, making NHE1 inhibitors of interest in anticancer therapy, yet their molecular effects are incompletely characterized. Here, we demonstrate that widely used pyrazinoylguanidine-type NHE1 inhibitors potently inhibit growth and survival of cancer cell spheroids, in a manner unrelated to NHE1 inhibition. Cancer and non-cancer cells were grown as 3-dimensional (3D) spheroids and treated with pyrazinoylguanidine-type (amiloride, 5-(N-ethyl-N-isopropyl)-amiloride (EIPA), 5-(N,N-dimethyl)-amiloride (DMA), and 5-(N,N-hexamethylene)-amiloride (HMA)) or benzoylguanidine-type (eniporide, cariporide) NHE1 inhibitors for 2-7 days, followed by analyses of viability, compound accumulation, and stress- and death-associated signalling. EIPA, DMA and HMA dose-dependently reduced breast cancer spheroid viability while cariporide and eniporide had no effect. Although both compound types inhibited NHE1, the toxic effects were NHE1-independent, as inhibitor-induced viability loss was unaffected by NHE1 CRISPR/Cas9 knockout. EIPA and HMA accumulated extensively in spheroids, and this was associated with marked vacuolization, apparent autophagic arrest, ER stress, mitochondrial- and DNA damage and poly-ADP-ribose-polymerase (PARP) cleavage, indicative of severe stress and paraptosis-like cell death. Pyrazinoylguanidine-induced cell death was partially additive to that induced by conventional anticancer therapies and strongly additive to extracellular-signal-regulated-kinase (ERK) pathway inhibition. Thus, in addition to inhibiting NHE1, pyrazinoylguanidines exert potent, NHE1-independent cancer cell death, pointing to a novel relevance for these compounds in anticancer therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5800
JournalScientific Reports
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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