Deoxyelephantopin (ESD), a naturally occurring sesquiterpene lactone present in the Chinese medicinal herb, Elephantopus scaber L. exerted anticancer effects on various cultured cancer cells. However, the cellular mechanisms by which it controls the development of the cancer cells are unavailable, particularly the human nasopharyngeal cancer CNE cells. In this study, we found that ESD inhibited the CNE cell proliferation. Cell cycle arrest in S and G2/M phases was also found. Western blotting analysis showed that modulation of cell cycle regulatory proteins was responsible for the ESD-induced cell cycle arrest. Besides, ESD also triggered apoptosis in CNE cells. Dysfunction in mitochondria was found to be associated with the ESD-induced apoptosis as evidenced by the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm), the translocation of cytochrome c, and the regulation of Bcl-2 family proteins. Despite the Western blotting analysis showed that both intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways (cleavage of caspases-3, -7, -8, -9, and -10) were triggered in the ESD-induced apoptosis, additional analysis also showed that the induction of apoptosis could be achieved by the caspase-independent manner. Besides, Akt, ERK and JNK pathways were found to involve in ESD-induced cell death. Overall, our findings provided the first evidence that ESD induced cell cycle arrest, and apoptosis in CNE cells. ESD could be a potential chemotherapeutic agent in the treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC).
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