The protein disulfide isomerase (PDI) family is a group of thioredoxin endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-resident enzymes and molecular chaperones that play crucial roles in the correct folding of proteins. PDIs are upregulated in multiple cancer types and are considered a novel target for cancer therapy. In this study, we found that a potent pan-PDI inhibitor, E64FC26, significantly decreased the proliferation of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cells. As expected, E64FC26 treatment increased ER stress and the unfolded protein response (UPR), as evidenced by upregulation of glucose-regulated protein, 78-kDa (GRP78), phosphorylated (p)-PKR-like ER kinase (PERK), and p-eukaryotic initiation factor 2α (eIF2α). Persistent ER stress was found to lead to apoptosis, ferroptosis, and autophagy, all of which are dependent on lysosomal functions. First, there was little cleaved caspase-3 in E64FC26-treated cells according to Western blotting, but a higher dose of E64FC26 was needed to induce caspase activity. Then, E64FC26-induced cell death could be reversed by adding the iron chelator, deferoxamine, and the reactive oxygen species scavengers, ferrostatin-1 and N-acetylcysteine. Furthermore, the autophagosome-specific marker, light chain 3B (LC3B)-II, increased, but the autolysosome marker, sequestosome 1 (SQSTM1)/p62, was not degraded in E64FC26-treated cells. Using the FUW mCherry-LC3 plasmid and acridine orange staining, we also discovered a lower number of acidic vesicles, such as autolysosomes and mature lysosomes, in E64FC26-treated cells. Finally, E64FC26 treatment increased the cathepsin L precursor (pre-CTSL) but decreased mature CTSL expression according to Western blotting, indicating a defective lysosome. These results suggested that the PDI inhibitor, E64FC26, might initially impede proper folding of proteins, and then induce ER stress and disrupt proteostasis, subsequently leading to lysosomal defects. Due to defective lysosomes, the extents of apoptosis and ferroptosis were limited, and fusion with autophagosomes was blocked in E64FC26-treated cells. Blockade of autolysosomal formation further led to the autophagic cell death of PDAC cells.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - Nov 17 2023


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