Background: Alpinia scabra, locally known as 'Lengkuas raya', is an aromatic, perennial and rhizomatous herb from the family Zingiberaceae. It is a wild species which grows largely on mountains at moderate elevations in Peninsular Malaysia, but it can also survive in the lowlands like in the states of Terengganu and Northern Johor. The present study reports the cytotoxic potential of A. scabra extracts from different parts of the plant.
Methods: The experimental approach in the present study was based on a bioassay-guided fractionation. The crude methanol and fractionated extracts (hexane, chloroform and water) from different parts of A. scabra (leaves, rhizomes, roots and pseudo stems) were prepared prior to the cytotoxicity evaluation against human ovarian (SKOV-3) and hormone-dependent breast (MCF7) carcinoma cells. The identified cytotoxic extracts were then subjected to chemical investigations in order to identify the active ingredients. A normal human lung fibroblast cell line (MRC-5) was used to determine the specificity for cancerous cells. The cytotoxic extracts and fractions were also subjected to morphological assessment, DNA fragmentation analysis and DAPI nuclear staining.
Results: The leaf (hexane and chloroform) and rhizome (chloroform) extracts showed high inhibitory effect against the tested cells. Ten fractions (LC1-LC10) were yielded after purification of the leaf chloroform extract. Fraction LC4 which showed excellent cytotoxic activity was further purified and resulted in 17 sub-fractions (VLC1-VLC17). Sub-fraction VLC9 showed excellent cytotoxicity against MCF7 and SKOV-3 cells but not toxic against normal MRC-5 cells. Meanwhile, eighteen fractions (RC1-RC18) were obtained after purification of the rhizome chloroform extract, of which fraction RC5 showed cytotoxicity against SKOV-3 cells with high selectivity index. There were marked morphological changes when observed using phase-contrast inverted microscope, DAPI nuclear staining and also DNA fragmentations in MCF7 and SKOV-3 cells after treatment with the cytotoxic extracts and fractions which were indicative of cell apoptosis. Methyl palmitate and methyl stearate were identified in the hexane leaf extract by GC-MS analysis.
Conclusions: The data obtained from the current study demonstrated that the cell death induced by cytotoxic extracts and fractions of A. scabra may be due to apoptosis induction which was characterized by apoptotic morphological changes and DNA fragmentation. The active ingredients in the leaf sub-fraction VLC9 and rhizome fraction RC5 may lead to valuable compounds that have the ability to kill cancer cells but not normal cells.