Background: Cratoxylum formosum (Jack) Dyer ssp. pruniflorum (Kurz) Gogel. (Hóng yá mù) (CF) has been used for treatment of fever, cough, and peptic ulcer. Previously, a 50% ethanol-water extract from twigs of CF was shown highly selective in cytotoxicity against cancer cells. This study aims to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the apoptosis-inducing effect of CF.
Methods: The cytotoxicity of CF was evaluated in the human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) HepG2 cell line in comparison with a non-cancerous African green monkey kidney epithelial cell line (Vero) by a neutral red assay. The apoptosis induction mechanisms were investigated through nuclear morphological changes, DNA fragmentation, mitochondrial membrane potential alterations, and caspase enzyme activities.
Results: CF selectively induced HepG2 cell death compared with non-cancerous Vero cells. A 1.5-fold higher apoptotic effect compared with melphalan was induced by 120 μg/mL of the 50% ethanol-water extract of CF. The apoptotic cell death in HepG2 cells occurred via extrinsic and intrinsic caspase-dependent pathways in dose- and time-dependent manners by significantly increasing the activities of caspase 3/7, 8, and 9, decreasing the mitochondrial membrane potential, and causing apoptotic body formation and DNA fragmentation.
Conclusions: CF extract induced a caspase-dependent apoptosis in HepG2 cells.