CAPE promotes TRAIL-induced apoptosis through the upregulation of TRAIL receptors via activation of p38 and suppression of JNK in SK-Hep1 hepatocellular carcinoma cells

Int J Oncol. 2013 Oct;43(4):1291-300. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2013.2018. Epub 2013 Jul 15.


Caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), a phenolic compound derived from honeybee propolis, has been reported to possess anticancer activities in several types of malignant cells. Here, we show that treatment with tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) in combination with CAPE significantly sensitized SK-Hep1 cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis. The sensitization to TRAIL was accompanied by the activation of extrinsic and intrinsic apoptotic pathways, leading to the activation of caspases, mitochondrial disruption and PARP cleavage. Moreover, TRAIL receptors, such as DR4 and DR5 were significantly upregulated by CAPE treatment, and both DR4/Fc and DR5/Fc chimera markedly abrogated apoptosis induced by CAPE and TRAIL, demonstrating the critical role of these death receptors in combination-induced apoptosis. The effect of CAPE on mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) was further examined, where CAPE treatment resulted in the activation of p38 and the inhibition of JNK, without affecting levels of phospho-ERK. Our results showed that p38 and JNK exhibited the opposite role in SK-Hep1 cells. The inhibition of p38, using SB203580, blocked the CAPE-induced expression of death receptors and attenuated the combination‑induced apoptosis, suggesting the pro-apoptotic role of p38. In contrast, JNK-specific inhibition, by SP600125, triggered upregulation of DR4 and DR5, and sensitized SK-Hep1 cells to TRAIL, indicating that the CAPE-induced suppression of JNK may contribute to the sensitizing effect of CAPE through the upregulation of death receptors. Taken together, these results indicate that CAPE potentiated TRAIL-induced apoptosis in SK-Hep1 cells, through upregulation of TRAIL receptors via modulation of p38 and JNK signaling pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Bees / chemistry
  • Caffeic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Liver Neoplasms / genetics
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 4 / biosynthesis
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 4 / genetics*
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / administration & dosage
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / analogs & derivatives
  • Propolis / administration & dosage
  • Propolis / chemistry
  • Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / biosynthesis*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / genetics*
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / biosynthesis
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics*


  • Caffeic Acids
  • Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • TNFSF10 protein, human
  • Propolis
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 4
  • caffeic acid phenethyl ester
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol