Anthracyclines such as doxorubicin are used extensively in the treatment of cancers. Anthraquinone-related angucyclines also exhibit antiproliferative properties and have been proposed to operate via similar mechanisms, including direct genome targeting. Here, we report the chemical synthesis of marmycin A and the study of its cellular activity. The aromatic core was constructed by means of a one-pot multistep reaction comprising a regioselective Diels-Alder cycloaddition, and the complex sugar backbone was introduced through a copper-catalysed Ullmann cross-coupling, followed by a challenging Friedel-Crafts cyclization. Remarkably, fluorescence microscopy revealed that marmycin A does not target the nucleus but instead accumulates in lysosomes, thereby promoting cell death independently of genome targeting. Furthermore, a synthetic dimer of marmycin A and the lysosome-targeting agent artesunate exhibited a synergistic activity against the invasive MDA-MB-231 cancer cell line. These findings shed light on the elusive pathways through which anthraquinone derivatives act in cells, pointing towards unanticipated biological and therapeutic applications.
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