AKT/mTOR signaling pathway is involved in salvianolic acid B-induced autophagy and apoptosis in hepatocellular carcinoma cells

Int J Oncol. 2016 Dec;49(6):2538-2548. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2016.3748. Epub 2016 Oct 24.


Chinese medicines are emerging as an attractive new generation of anticancer drugs. Here, we explored the impact of salvianolic acid B (Sal B), the major water-soluble compounds of Danshen, on apoptosis and autophagy of human hepatocellular carcinoma cells (HCC). We also investigated the related molecular mechanisms. We found that Sal B exhibits potent ability to inhibit HCC cells viability in a concentration-dependent manner, and to induce apoptosis via the mitochondrial apoptosis pathway. Additionally, Sal B could also induce autophagy. Furthermore, pretreatment with the autophagy inhibitor chloroquine or 3-methyladenine showed the potential in attenuating the apoptosis rate induced by Sal B. Mechanistically, Sal B treatment inhibited the AKT/mTOR signaling cascade in vitro. Overexpression of AKT abolished the effects of Sal B on HCC cells, suggesting a critical role of the AKT/mTOR signaling pathway in Sal B-induced biological effects. Our results indicated that the mitochondrial pathway was involved in Sal B-induced apoptosis of HCC cells. Moreover, the AKT/mTOR signaling pathway was involved in Sal B-induced autophagy, which promoted apoptosis. This study may provide a promising strategy for using Sal B as a chemotherapeutic agent for patients with HCC.

MeSH terms

  • Adenine / analogs & derivatives
  • Adenine / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Beclin-1 / genetics
  • Benzofurans / pharmacology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Chloroquine / pharmacology
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Salvia miltiorrhiza
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Beclin-1
  • Benzofurans
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • dan-shen root extract
  • 3-methyladenine
  • Chloroquine
  • salvianolic acid B
  • MTOR protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Adenine