Bitter melon juice activates cellular energy sensor AMP-activated protein kinase causing apoptotic death of human pancreatic carcinoma cells

Carcinogenesis. 2013 Jul;34(7):1585-92. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgt081. Epub 2013 Mar 8.


Prognosis of pancreatic cancer is extremely poor, suggesting critical needs for additional drugs to improve disease outcome. In this study, we examined efficacy and associated mechanism of a novel agent bitter melon juice (BMJ) against pancreatic carcinoma cells both in culture and nude mice. BMJ anticancer efficacy was analyzed in human pancreatic carcinoma BxPC-3, MiaPaCa-2, AsPC-1 and Capan-2 cells by 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazole-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide, cell death enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and annexin/propidium iodide assays. BMJ effect on apoptosis regulators was assessed by immunoblotting. In vivo BMJ efficacy was evaluated against MiaPaCa-2 tumors in nude mice, and xenograft was analyzed for biomarkers by immunohistochemistry (IHC). Results showed that BMJ (2-5% v/v) decreases cell viability in all four pancreatic carcinoma cell lines by inducing strong apoptotic death. At molecular level, BMJ caused caspases activation, altered expression of Bcl-2 family members and cytochrome-c release into the cytosol. Additionally, BMJ decreased survivin and X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein but increased p21, CHOP and phosphorylated mitogen-activated protein kinases (extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 and p38) levels. Importantly, BMJ activated adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a biomarker for cellular energy status, and an AMPK inhibitor (Compound C) reversed BMJ-induced caspase-3 activation suggesting activated AMPK involvement in BMJ-induced apoptosis. In vivo, oral administration of lyophilized BMJ (5mg in 100 µl water/day/mouse) for 6 weeks inhibited MiaPaCa-2 tumor xenograft growth by 60% (P < 0.01) without noticeable toxicity in nude mice. IHC analyses of MiaPaCa-2 xenografts showed that BMJ also inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis and activates AMPK in vivo. Overall, BMJ exerts strong anticancer efficacy against human pancreatic carcinoma cells, both in vitro and in vivo, suggesting its clinical usefulness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cytosol / drug effects
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Momordica / chemistry*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Plant Extracts / administration & dosage
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Plant Extracts
  • Protein Kinases
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3