Diclofenac: A Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug Inducing Cancer Cell Death by Inhibiting Microtubule Polymerization and Autophagy Flux

Soohee Choi, Suree Kim, Jiyoung Park, Seung Eun Lee, Chaewon Kim, Dongmin Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to treat inflammatory diseases induces cellular toxicity by increasing the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and impairing autophagic flux. In this study, we investigated whether diclofenac induces cancer cell death and the mechanism by which diclofenac causes cell death. We observed that diclofenac induces mitotic arrest with a half-maximal effective concentration of 170 µM and cell death with a half-maximal lethal dose of 200 µM during 18-h incubation in HeLa cells. Cellular microtubule imaging and in vitro tubulin polymerization assays demonstrated that treatment with diclofenac elicits microtubule destabilization. Autophagy relies on microtubule-mediated transport and the fusion of autophagic vesicles. We observed that diclofenac inhibits both phagophore movement, an early step of autophagy, and the fusion of autophagosomes and lysosomes, a late step of autophagy. Diclofenac also induces the fragmentation of mitochondria and the Golgi during cell death. We found that diclofenac induces cell death further in combination with 5-fuorouracil, a DNA replication inhibitor than in single treatment in cancer cells. Pancreatic cancer cells, which have high basal autophagy, are particularly sensitive to cell death by diclofenac. Our study suggests that microtubule destabilization by diclofenac induces cancer cell death via compromised spindle assembly checkpoints and increased ROS through impaired autophagy flux. Diclofenac may be a candidate therapeutic drug in certain type of cancers by inhibiting microtubule-mediated cellular events in combination with clinically utilized nucleoside metabolic inhibitors, including 5-fluorouracil, to block cancer cell proliferation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1009
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by grants from the National Research Foundation of Korea (2021R1A6A1A10039823) and from the Korea Basic Science Institute (National Research Facilities and Equipment Center) funded by the Ministry of Education (2019R1A6C1010020 and 2021R1A6C103A408).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • autophagy
  • cell death
  • combination cancer therapy
  • diclofenac
  • microtubule depolymerization


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