Aim of study: Dandelion extracts have been used in traditional Native American Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for treatment of leukemia and breast cancer; however, the mechanism of action remains unknown. Today, DRE is mainly marketed for management of gastrointestinal and liver disorders. The current study aims to determine the anti-cancer activity of dandelion root extract (DRE) against human leukemia, and to evaluate the specificity and mechanism of DRE-induced apoptosis.
Materials and methods: The effect of DRE on cell viability was evaluated using the colorimetric-based WST-1 assay. Apoptotic cell death was monitored by nuclear condensation and confirmed by exposure of phosphatidylserine to outer leaflet of plasma membrane. Activation of caspases was detected using a fluorogenic substrate specific to either caspase-8 or -3. Loss of mitochondrial membrane potential was observed by microscopy using JC-1 dye. The apoptotic effect of DRE was also evaluated on a dominant-negative FADD (Fas-associated death domain) cell line and non-cancerous peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs).
Results: Aqueous DRE effectively induces apoptosis in human leukemia cell lines in a dose and time dependent manner. Very early activation of caspase-8 and the subsequent activation of caspase-3 indicate that DRE may be inducing extrinsic or receptor-mediated apoptosis. Caspase inhibition rendered this extract ineffective, thus DRE-induced apoptosis is caspase-dependent. Moreover, the dominant-negative FADD cells that are unable to form a complete DISC (death-inducing signaling complex) were resistant to DRE treatment, which further confirms our hypothesis that DRE induces receptor-mediated apoptosis. Interestingly, non-cancerous peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) exposed to aqueous DRE under the same treatment conditions as leukemia cells were not significantly affected.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that aqueous DRE contains components that act to induce apoptosis selectively in cultured leukemia cells, emphasizing the importance of this traditional medicine and thus presents a potential novel non-toxic alternative to conventional leukemia therapy.
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