Article open access publication

Inhibition of the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca2+-ATPase by thapsigargin analogs induces cell death via ER Ca2+ depletion and the unfolded protein response

Journal of Biological Chemistry, American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (ASBMB), ISSN 0021-9258

Volume 292, 48, 2017

DOI:10.1074/jbc.m117.796920, Dimensions: pub.1092069321, PMC: PMC5712609, PMID: 28972171,



  1. (1) University of Toronto, grid.17063.33
  2. (2) Aarhus University, grid.7048.b, AU
  3. (3) Danish National Research Foundation, grid.452938.1
  4. (4) Centre for Molecular Medicine Norway (NCMM), Nordic European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Partnership for Molecular Medicine, University of Oslo, P. O. Box 1137 Blindern, 0318 Oslo, Norway,
  5. (5) Danish Research Institute of Translational Neuroscience (DANDRITE), Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, DK-8000 Aarhus, Denmark, and
  6. (6) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU






North America


Calcium (Ca2+) is a fundamental regulator of cell signaling and function. Thapsigargin (Tg) blocks the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca2+-ATPase (SERCA), disrupts Ca2+ homeostasis, and causes cell death. However, the exact mechanisms whereby SERCA inhibition induces cell death are incompletely understood. Here, we report that low (0.1 μm) concentrations of Tg and Tg analogs with various long-chain substitutions at the O-8 position extensively inhibit SERCA1a-mediated Ca2+ transport. We also found that, in both prostate and breast cancer cells, exposure to Tg or Tg analogs for 1 day caused extensive drainage of the ER Ca2+ stores. This Ca2+ depletion was followed by markedly reduced cell proliferation rates and morphological changes that developed over 2-4 days and culminated in cell death. Interestingly, these changes were not accompanied by bulk increases in cytosolic Ca2+ levels. Moreover, knockdown of two key store-operated Ca2+ entry (SOCE) components, Orai1 and STIM1, did not reduce Tg cytotoxicity, indicating that SOCE and Ca2+ entry are not critical for Tg-induced cell death. However, we observed a correlation between the abilities of Tg and Tg analogs to deplete ER Ca2+ stores and their detrimental effects on cell viability. Furthermore, caspase activation and cell death were associated with a sustained unfolded protein response. We conclude that ER Ca2+ drainage and sustained unfolded protein response activation are key for initiation of apoptosis at low concentrations of Tg and Tg analogs, whereas high cytosolic Ca2+ levels and SOCE are not required.


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Times Cited: 45

Field Citation Ratio (FCR): 9.21

Relative Citation ratio (RCR): 2.26

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