• Authors: Milani, M., Byrne, D. P., Greaves, G., Butterworth, M., Cohen, G. M., Eyers, P. A., Varadarajan, S.
  • Year: 2017
  • Journal: Cell Death Dis 8 e2552
  • Applications: in vitro / siRNA / INTERFERin
  • Cell type: NCI-H1299


The concept of using BH3 mimetics as anticancer agents has been substantiated by the efficacy of selective drugs, such as Navitoclax and Venetoclax, in treating BCL-2-dependent haematological malignancies. However, most solid tumours depend on MCL-1 for survival, which is highly amplified in multiple cancers and a major factor determining chemoresistance. Most MCL-1 inhibitors that have been generated so far, while demonstrating early promise in vitro, fail to exhibit specificity and potency in a cellular context. To address the lack of standardised assays for benchmarking the in vitro binding of putative inhibitors before analysis of their cellular effects, we developed a rapid differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF)-based assay, and used it to screen a panel of BH3 mimetics. We next contrasted their binding signatures with their ability to induce apoptosis in a MCL-1 dependent cell line. Of all the MCL-1 inhibitors tested, only A-1210477 induced rapid, concentration-dependent apoptosis, which strongly correlated with a thermal protective effect on MCL-1 in the DSF assay. In cells that depend on both MCL-1 and BCL-XL, A-1210477 exhibited marked synergy with A-1331852, a BCL-XL specific inhibitor, to induce cell death. Despite this selectivity and potency, A-1210477 induced profound structural changes in the mitochondrial network in several cell lines that were not phenocopied following MCL-1 RNA interference or transcriptional repression, suggesting that A-1210477 induces mitochondrial fragmentation in an MCL-1-independent manner. However, A-1210477-induced mitochondrial fragmentation was dependent upon DRP-1, and silencing expression levels of DRP-1 diminished not just mitochondrial fragmentation but also BH3 mimetic-mediated apoptosis. These findings provide new insights into MCL-1 ligands, and the interplay between DRP-1 and the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family members in the regulation of apoptosis.