Cell Death Differ. 27 (2) 773-789 [2020-02-00; online 2019-07-08]
Pharmacological inhibition of ribosome biogenesis is a promising avenue for cancer therapy. Herein, we report a novel activity of the FDA-approved antimalarial drug amodiaquine which inhibits rRNA transcription, a rate-limiting step for ribosome biogenesis, in a dose-dependent manner. Amodiaquine triggers degradation of the catalytic subunit of RNA polymerase I (Pol I), with ensuing RPL5/RPL11-dependent stabilization of p53. Pol I shutdown occurs in the absence of DNA damage and without the subsequent ATM-dependent inhibition of rRNA transcription. RNAseq analysis revealed mechanistic similarities of amodiaquine with BMH-21, the first-in-class Pol I inhibitor, and with chloroquine, the antimalarial analog of amodiaquine, with well-established autophagy-inhibitory activity. Interestingly, autophagy inhibition caused by amodiaquine is not involved in the inhibition of rRNA transcription, suggesting two independent anticancer mechanisms. In vitro, amodiaquine is more efficient than chloroquine in restraining the proliferation of human cell lines derived from colorectal carcinomas, a cancer type with predicted susceptibility to ribosome biogenesis stress. Taken together, our data reveal an unsuspected activity of a drug approved and used in the clinics for over 30 years, and provide rationale for repurposing amodiaquine in cancer therapy.