PHY906, a four-herb Chinese medicine formula first described 1800 years ago, decreases gastrointestinal toxicity induced by the chemotherapeutic drug CPT-11 (irinotecan), as shown in a phase I/II clinical study. Similarly, in a murine colon 38 allograft model, PHY906 increased the antitumor activity of CPT-11 while decreasing animal weight loss caused by CPT-11. Here, we have further examined the effect of PHY906 on the intestinal toxicity caused by CPT-11 in mice. PHY906 did not protect against the initial DNA damage and apoptosis triggered by CPT-11 in the intestine, but by 4 days after CPT-11 treatment, PHY906 had restored the intestinal epithelium by promoting the regeneration of intestinal progenitor or stem cells and several Wnt signaling components. PHY906 also potentiated Wnt3a activity in human embryonic kidney-293 cells. Furthermore, PHY906 exhibited anti-inflammatory effects in mice by decreasing the infiltration of neutrophils or macrophages, tumor necrosis factor-alpha expression in the intestine, and proinflammatory cytokine concentrations in plasma. Chemical constituents of PHY906 potently inhibited nuclear factor kappaB, cyclooxygenase-2, and inducible nitric oxide synthase. Our results show that the herbal medicine PHY906 can counteract the toxicity of CPT-11 via several mechanisms that act simultaneously.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00730158.