Background: Curcumin inhibits the growth of pancreatic cancer tumor xenografts in nude mice; however, the mechanism of action is not well understood. It is becoming increasingly clear that RNA binding proteins regulate posttranscriptional gene expression and play a critical role in RNA stability and translation. Here, we have determined that curcumin modulates the expression of RNA binding protein CUGBP2 to inhibit pancreatic cancer growth.
Methodology/principal findings: In this study, we show that curcumin treated tumor xenografts have a significant reduction in tumor volume and angiogenesis. Curcumin inhibited the proliferation, while inducing G2-M arrest and apoptosis resulting in mitotic catastrophe of various pancreatic cancer cells. This was further confirmed by increased phosphorylation of checkpoint kinase 2 (Chk2) protein coupled with higher levels of nuclear cyclin B1 and Cdc-2. Curcumin increased the expression of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) mRNA, but protein levels were lower. Furthermore, curcumin increased the expression of RNA binding proteins CUGBP2/CELF2 and TIA-1. CUGBP2 binding to COX-2 and VEGF mRNA was also enhanced, thereby increasing mRNA stability, the half-life changing from 30 min to 8 h. On the other hand, silencer-mediated knockdown of CUGBP2 partially restored the expression of COX-2 and VEGF even with curcumin treatment. COX-2 and VEGF mRNA levels were reduced to control levels, while proteins levels were higher.
Conclusion/significance: Curcumin inhibits pancreatic tumor growth through mitotic catastrophe by increasing the expression of RNA binding protein CUGBP2, thereby inhibiting the translation of COX-2 and VEGF mRNA. These data suggest that translation inhibition is a novel mechanism of action for curcumin during the therapeutic intervention of pancreatic cancers.