Sanguinarine is a natural isoquinoline alkaloid derived from the root of Sanguinaria canadensis and from other poppy fumaria species, and is known to have a broad spectrum of pharmacological properties. Here we have found that sanguinarine, at low micromolar concentrations, showed a remarkably rapid killing activity against human melanoma cells. Time-lapse videomicroscopy showed rapid morphological changes compatible with an apoptotic cell death, which was further supported by biochemical markers, including caspase activation, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) cleavage and DNA breakdown. Pan-caspase inhibition blocked sanguinarine-induced cell death. Sanguinarine treatment also induced an increase in intracellular calcium concentration, which was inhibited by dantrolene, and promoted cleavage of BAP-31, thus suggesting a putative role for Ca(2+) release from endoplasmic reticulum and a cross-talk between endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria in the anti-melanoma action of sanguinarine. Sanguinarine disrupted the mitochondrial transmembrane potential (ΔΨm), released cytochrome c and Smac/DIABLO from mitochondria to cytosol, and induced oxidative stress. Overexpression of Bcl-XL by gene transfer did not prevent sanguinarine-mediated cell death, oxidative stress or release of mitochondrial apoptogenic proteins. However, preincubation with N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC) prevented sanguinarine-induced oxidative stress, PARP cleavage, release of apoptogenic mitochondrial proteins, and cell death. Pretreatment with glutathione (GSH) also inhibited the anti-melanoma activity of sanguinarine. Thus, pretreatment with the thiol antioxidants NAC and GSH abrogated the killing activity of sanguinarine. Taking together, our data indicate that sanguinarine is a very rapid inducer of human melanoma caspase-dependent cell death that is mediated by oxidative stress.
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