Anticancer efficacy of the ethyl acetate extract from the traditional Chinese medicine herb Celastrus orbiculatus against human gastric cancer

J Ethnopharmacol. 2017 Jun 9;205:147-157. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2017.04.030. Epub 2017 May 3.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: The traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herb Celastrus orbiculatus is an important folk medicinal plant in China that has been used as an anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and analgesic in various diseases. The ethyl acetate extract of C. orbiculatus (C. orbiculatus extract, COE) was reported to show significant antitumor effects. However, no study in China or abroad has reported the effect and mechanism of COE in triggering apoptosis of gastric cancer (GC) cells.

Aim of study: To further uncover the molecular mechanism underlying COE's apoptotic and anti-proliferative effects and lay a foundation for the development of novel, effective antitumor TCM agents.

Materials and methods: The effect of COE on AGS and BGC-823 GC cell viability was examined using a 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay. Apoptosis of AGS and BGC-823 cells induced by COE was analyzed using flow cytometry and a mitochondrial membrane potential assay kit (JC-1). The proliferating GC cells were identified and examined using a 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) staining kit and flow cytometric analysis. A western blot assay was used to detect the effect of COE on apoptosis-related proteins, B-cell lymphoma-2 (Bcl-2), Bcl-extra-large (Bcl-xL), Bcl-2-like protein 12 (Bcl-L12), Bcl-2-associated X protein (Bax), and caspase as well as proliferation-related proteins, phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt/mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR)/p70s6k. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and an animal imaging technique were used to evaluate the microstructure of apoptotic GC cells and the effect of COE on tumor cell growth in vivo, respectively.

Results: The results indicate that COE significantly inhibited proliferation and induced apoptosis of GC AGS and BGC-823 cell lines both in vivo and in vitro. COE significantly decreased the cell mitochondrial membrane potential. Moreover, COE downregulated the levels of Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, and PI3K/Akt/mTOR/p70s6k while those of Bax and caspase were upregulated. More interestingly, COE altered the microstructure of the mitochondria.

Conclusion: All these data collectively indicate that COE not only has significant antiproliferative effects but also has both in vivo and in vitro apoptotic effects. In addition, COE altered the structure and function of the mitochondria, which is another potential pathway for the antitumor activity of COE. These findings may provide a basis for the development of new anticancer TCM candidates.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Celastrus orbiculatus extract; Gastric cancer; Proliferation.

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / chemistry*
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Celastrus / chemistry*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / chemistry
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / diagnostic imaging
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Rats


  • Acetates
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • ethyl acetate