Beta-sheet-specific interactions with heat shock proteins define a mechanism of delayed tumor cell death in response to HAMLET

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


As chaperones, heat shock proteins (HSPs)protect host cells against misfolded proteins that constitute a by-product of protein synthesis. Certain HSPs are also expressed on the surface of tumor cells, possibly to scavenge extracellular unfolded protein ligands and prevent them from becoming cytotoxic. HAMLET—a complex of partially unfolded alpha-lactalbumin and oleic acid—is relying on its N-terminal alpha-helical domain to perturb tumor cell membranes, and the cells die as a consequence of this interaction. Here we show that in parallel, cell surface HSPs bind the beta-sheet domain of alpha-lactalbumin and activate a temporarily protective loop, involving vesicular uptake and lysosomal accumulation. Later, HAMLET destroys lysosomal membrane integrity, and HAMLET release kills the remaining tumor cells. HSPs were identified as HAMLET targets in a proteomic screen and Hsp70-specific antibodies or shRNAs inhibited HAMLET uptake by tumor cells, which showed increased Hsp70 surface expression compared to differentiated cells. The results suggest that HAMLET engages tumor cells by two parallel recognition mechanisms, defined by alpha-helical- or beta-sheet domains of alpha-lactalbumin and resulting in an immediate death response, or a delay due to transient accumulation of the complex in the lysosomes. This dual response pattern was conserved among tumor cells but not seen in normal, differentiated cells. By two different mechanisms, HAMLET thus achieves a remarkably efficient elimination of tumor cells.


External organisations
  • Nanyang Technological University
  • Lund University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Cancer and Oncology
  • Cell and Molecular Biology


  • beta peptide, lysosome, scavenger, tumoricidal activity, unfolded protein
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2612-2627
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number14
Early online date2019 May 11
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch