The Use of Withaferin A to Study Intermediate Filaments

Methods Enzymol. 2016;568:187-218. doi: 10.1016/bs.mie.2015.09.025. Epub 2015 Nov 3.


Withaferin A (WFA), initially identified as a compound that inhibits experimental angiogenesis, has been shown to bind to soluble vimentin (sVim) and other type III intermediate filament (IF) proteins. We review WFA's dose-related activities (Section 1), examining nanomolar concentrations effects on sVim in cell proliferation and submicromolar effects on lamellipodia and focal adhesion formation. WFA effects on polymeric IFs are especially interesting to the study of cell migration and invasion that depend on IF mechanical contractile properties. WFA interferes with NF-κB signaling, though this anti-inflammatory mechanism may occur via perturbation of sVim-protein complexes, and possibly also via targeting IκB kinase β directly. However, micromolar concentrations that induce vimentin cleavage to promote apoptosis may increasingly show off-target effects via targeting other IFs (neurofilaments and keratin) and non-IFs (tubulin, heat-shock proteins, proteasome). Thus, in Section 2, we describe our studies combining cell cultures with animal models of injury to validate relevant type III IF-targeting mechanisms of WFA. In Section 3, we illuminate from investigating myofibroblast differentiation how sVim phosphorylation may govern cell type-selective sensitivity to WFA, offering impetus for exploring vimentin phosphorylation isoforms as targets and biomarkers of fibrosis. These different WFA targets and activities are listed in a summary table.

Keywords: Cell migration; Cell spreading; Cornea; Drug; Fibroblasts; Fibrosis; Myofibroblasts; Phosphorylation; Vimentin; Withaferin A.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filaments / metabolism*
  • Myofibroblasts / cytology
  • Myofibroblasts / drug effects
  • Myofibroblasts / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Withanolides / pharmacology*


  • Withanolides
  • withaferin A