Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the fifth most common malignancy and the third most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Sorafenib is the only drug for patients with advanced-stage hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) that has been shown to confer a survival benefit to patients with HCC; however, it has many side effects. Thus, alternate therapeutic strategies with improved safety and therapeutic efficacy for the management of HCC should be developed.
Methods and findings: We demonstrate that an extract of Graptopetalum paraguayense (GP) down-regulated the expression levels of several onco-proteins, including AURKA, AURKB, and FLJ10540, in HCC cells. To isolate the active components in the GP extracts, we prepared extracts fractions and assessed their effects on the expression of onco-proteins in HCC cells. The fraction designated HH-F3 was enriched in active ingredients, exhibited cytotoxic effects, and suppressed the expression of the onco-proteins in HCC cells. The structure of the main active compound in HH-F3 was found to be similar to that of the proanthocyanidin compounds derived from Rhodiola rosea. In addition, a distinct new compound rich in 3, 4, 5-trihydroxy benzylic moieties was identified in the HH-F3 preparations. Mechanistic studies indicated that HH-F3 induced apoptosis in HCC cells by promoting the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and the production of reactive oxygen species. HH-F3 also enhanced PTEN expression and decreased AKT phosphorylation at Ser473 in a concentration-dependent manner in HCC cells. Moreover combination of GP or HH-F3 and sorafenib synergistically inhibits the proliferation of Huh7 cells. The treatment of a rat model with diethylnitrosamine (DEN)-induced liver cancer with extracts of GP and HH-F3 decreased hepatic collagen contents and inhibited tumor growth.
Conclusions: These results indicate that GP extracts and HH-F3 can protect the liver by suppressing tumor growth; consequently, these compounds could be considered for the treatment of HCC.