Dehydroeburicoic acid induces calcium- and calpain-dependent necrosis in human U87MG glioblastomas

Chem Res Toxicol. 2009 Nov;22(11):1817-26. doi: 10.1021/tx9002275.


Dehydroeburicoic acid (DeEA) is a triterpene purified from medicinal fungi such as Antrodia camphorate, the crude extract of which is known to exert cytotoxic effects against several types of cancer cells. We aim to test the hypothesis that DeEA possesses significant cytotoxic effects against glioblastomas, one of the most frequent and malignant brain tumors in adults. 3-(4,5-Dimethyl-thiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide and lactate dehydrogenase release assays indicated that DeEA inhibited the proliferation of the human glioblastoma cell U87MG. In addition, Annexin V and propidium iodide staining showed that DeEA treatment led to a rapid increase of glioblastomas in the necrotic/late apoptotic fraction, whereas cell cycle analysis revealed that DeEA failed to significantly enhance the population of U87MG cells in the hypodiploid (sub-G1) fraction. Using electron microscopy, we found that DeEA induced significant cell enlargements, massive cytoplasmic vacuolization, and loss of mitochondrial membrane integrity. DeEA treatment triggered an intracellular Ca(2+) increase, and DeEA-induced cell death was significantly attenuated by BAPTA-AM but not ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid or ethylene glycol tetraacetic acid. DeEA instigated a reduction of both mitochondrial transmembrane potential and intracellular ATP level. Moreover, DeEA induced proteolysis of alpha-spectrin by calpain, and DeEA cytotoxicity in U87MG cells was caspase-independent but was effectively blocked by calpain inhibitor. Interestingly, DeEA also caused autophagic response that was prevented by calpain inhibitor. Taken together, these results suggest that in human glioblastomas, DeEA induces necrotic cell death that involves Ca(2+) overload, mitochondrial dysfunction, and calpain activation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Apoptosis
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Calpain / metabolism*
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Glioblastoma / metabolism*
  • Glioblastoma / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Lactate Dehydrogenases / metabolism
  • Lanosterol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Lanosterol / chemistry
  • Lanosterol / therapeutic use
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Necrosis
  • Triterpenes / toxicity*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Triterpenes
  • dehydroeburicoic acid
  • dehydroeburiconic acid
  • Lanosterol
  • Lactate Dehydrogenases
  • Calpain
  • Caspases
  • Calcium