Norcantharidin Suppresses Colon Cancer Cell Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition by Inhibiting the αvβ6-ERK-Ets1 Signaling Pathway

Sci Rep. 2016 Feb 5;6:20500. doi: 10.1038/srep20500.


Norcantharidin (NCTD) is an efficacious anti-cancer drug that has been used in China for many years, but its underlying mechanism of action is still not fully understood. In the present study, we found that NCTD could induce morphological changes in colon cancer cells, causing a transition from a spindle-shaped morphology to a typical round or oval shape, which was indicative of a mesenchymal-epithelial transition (MET) process. Next, we investigated the mechanism by which NCTD induced the MET process. Using a transwell assay, we found that NCTD could suppress the migratory and invasive ability of colon cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner. Moreover, NCTD suppressed the expression of integrin αvβ6, MMP-3, and MMP-9 as well as the polymerization of F-actin, further supporting its suppressive effect on migratory and invasive ability. Furthermore, the expression of αvβ6, N-cadherin, vimentin and phosphorylated ERK was decreased, while the expression of E-cadherin was up-regulated. We verified that phosphorylated Ets1 was down-regulated substantially after treatment with NCTD. Taken together, our data demonstrated that NCTD could inhibit the EMT process of colon cancer cells by inhibiting the αvβ6-ERK-Ets1 signaling pathway. This study revealed part of the mechanism through which NCTD could reverse the EMT process in colon cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / drug effects*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • HT29 Cells
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects*
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-ets-1 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-ets-1 / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • ETS1 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-ets-1
  • norcantharidin