The plant defensin NaD1 induces tumor cell death via a non-apoptotic, membranolytic process Academic Article uri icon


  • Cationic anti-microbial peptides (CAPs) have an important role in host innate defense against pathogens such as bacteria and fungi. Many CAPs including defensins also exhibit selective cytotoxic activity towards mammalian cells via both apoptotic and non-apoptotic processes, and are being investigated as potential anticancer agents. The anti-fungal plant defensin from ornamental tobacco, Nicotiana alata Defensin 1 (NaD1), was recently shown to induce necrotic-like cell death in a number of tumor cell types within 30 min of treatment, at a concentration of 10 μM. NaD1-mediated cell killing within these experimental parameters has been shown to occur via binding to the plasma membrane phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) in target cells to facilitate membrane destabilization and subsequent lysis. Whether NaD1 is also capable of inducing apoptosis in tumor cells has not been reported previously. In this study, treatment of MM170 (melanoma) and Jurkat T (leukemia) cells with subacute (<10 μM) concentrations of NaD1 over 6-24 h was investigated to determine whether NaD1 could induce cell death via apoptosis. At subacute concentrations, NaD1 did not efficiently induce membrane permeabilization within 30 min, but markedly reduced cell viability over 24 h. In contrast to other CAPs that have been shown to induce apoptosis through caspase activation, dying cells were not sensitive to a pancaspase inhibitor nor did they display caspase activity or DNA fragmentation over the 24 h treatment time. Furthermore, over the 24 h period, cells exhibited necrotic phenotypes and succumbed to membrane permeabilization. These results indicate that the cytotoxic mechanism of NaD1 at subacute concentrations is membranolytic rather than apoptotic and is also likely to be mediated through a PIP2-targeting cell lytic pathway.

publication date

  • 2017