• Open Access

Inhibitors of mitochondrial Kv1.3 channels induce Bax/Bak-independent death of cancer cells

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Abstract

Overcoming the resistance of tumours to chemotherapy, often due to downregulation of Bax and Bak, represents a significant clinical challenge. It is therefore important to identify novel apoptosis inducers that bypass Bax and Bak. Potassium channels are emerging as oncological targets and a crucial role of mitochondrial Kv1.3 in apoptosis has been demonstrated. Here we report for the first time that Psora-4, PAP-1 and clofazimine, three distinct membrane-permeant inhibitors of Kv1.3, induce death by directly targeting the mitochondrial channel in multiple human and mouse cancer cell lines. Importantly, these drugs activated the intrinsic apoptotic pathway also in the absence of Bax and Bak, a result in agreement with the current mechanistic model for mitochondrial Kv1.3 action. Genetic deficiency or short interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated downregulation of Kv1.3 abrogated the effects of the drugs. Intraperitoneal injection of clofazimine reduced tumour size by 90% in an orthotopic melanoma B16F10 mouse model in vivo, while no adverse effects were observed in several healthy tissues. The study indicates that inhibition of mitochondrial Kv1.3 might be a novel therapeutic option for the induction of cancer cell death independent of Bax and Bak.

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