Int J Mol Sci 21 (9) 3136 [2020-04-29; online 2020-04-29]
O-methyl-serine dodecylamine hydrochloride (MSDH) is a detergent that accumulates selectively in lysosomes, a so-called lysosomotropic detergent, with unexpected chemical properties. At physiological pH, it spontaneously forms vesicles, which disassemble into small aggregates (probably micelles) below pH 6.4. In this study, we characterize the interaction between MSDH and liposomes at different pH and correlate the findings to toxicity in human fibroblasts. We find that the effect of MSDH on lipid membranes is highly pH-dependent. At neutral pH, the partitioning of MSDH into the liposome membrane is immediate and causes the leakage of small fluorophores, unless the ratio between MSDH and lipids is kept low. At pH 5, the partitioning of MSDH into the membrane is kinetically impeded since MSDH is charged and a high ratio between MSDH and the lipids is required to permeabilize the membrane. When transferred to cell culture conditions, the ratio between MSDH and plasma membrane lipids must therefore be low, at physiological pH, to maintain plasma membrane integrity. Transmission electron microscopy suggests that MSDH vesicles are taken up by endocytosis. As the pH of the endosomal compartment progressively drops, MSDH vesicles disassemble, leading to a high concentration of increasingly charged MSDH in small aggregates inside the lysosomes. At sufficiently high MSDH concentrations, the lysosome is permeabilized, the proteolytic content released to the cytosol and apoptotic cell death is induced.