Celastrol, a novel triterpene, potentiates TNF-induced apoptosis and suppresses invasion of tumor cells by inhibiting NF-kappaB-regulated gene products and TAK1-mediated NF-kappaB activation

Blood. 2007 Apr 1;109(7):2727-35. doi: 10.1182/blood-2006-10-050807.


Celastrol, a quinone methide triterpene derived from the medicinal plant Tripterygium wilfordii, has been used to treat chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, but its mechanism is not well understood. Therefore, we investigated the effects of celastrol on cellular responses activated by TNF, a potent proinflammatory cytokine. Celastrol potentiated the apoptosis induced by TNF and chemotherapeutic agents and inhibited invasion, both regulated by NF-kappaB activation. We found that TNF induced the expression of gene products involved in antiapoptosis (IAP1, IAP2, Bcl-2, Bcl-XL, c-FLIP, and survivin), proliferation (cyclin D1 and COX-2), invasion (MMP-9), and angiogenesis (VEGF) and that celastrol treatment suppressed their expression. Because these gene products are regulated by NF-kappaB, we postulated that celastrol mediates its effects by modulating the NF-kappaB pathway. We found that celastrol suppressed both inducible and constitutive NF-kappaB activation. Celastrol was found to inhibit the TNF-induced activation of IkappaBalpha kinase, IkappaBalpha phosphorylation, IkappaBalpha degradation, p65 nuclear translocation and phosphorylation, and NF-kappaB-mediated reporter gene expression. Recent studies indicate that TNF-induced IKK activation requires activation of TAK1, and we indeed found that celastrol inhibited the TAK1-induced NF-kappaB activation. Overall, our results suggest that celastrol potentiates TNF-induced apoptosis and inhibits invasion through suppression of the NF-kappaB pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / drug effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • DNA, Neoplasm / genetics
  • DNA, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • I-kappa B Proteins / metabolism
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases / metabolism*
  • NF-KappaB Inhibitor alpha
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / genetics
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / genetics
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / prevention & control
  • Pentacyclic Triterpenes
  • Phosphorylation
  • Triterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • I-kappa B Proteins
  • NF-kappa B
  • NFKBIA protein, human
  • Pentacyclic Triterpenes
  • Triterpenes
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • NF-KappaB Inhibitor alpha
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases
  • MAP kinase kinase kinase 7
  • celastrol