Steroids from Helleborus caucasicus reduce cancer cell viability inducing apoptosis and GRP78 down-regulation

Chem Biol Interact. 2018 Jan 5;279:43-50. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2017.11.002. Epub 2017 Nov 7.


Helleborus caucasicus (Ranunculaceae) is an endemic plant of the Caucasian flora, widely distributed in West Georgia. Biological activities for the extracts of some Helleborus species including H. caucasicus have been reported. In this work we found that butanolic extract of the underground parts of H. caucasicus and isolated compounds decreased cell viability in vitro on cancer cell line of lung origin (Calu-1) in a concentration-dependent manner, compared to the normal cell line. In particular, we identified that furostanol derivative (25S)-22α,25-epoxyfurost-5-ene-3β,11β,26-triol 26-O-β-d-glucopyranoside (5), 20-hydroxyecdysone (6), and 3β,5β,14β-trihydroxy-19-oxo-bufa-20,22-dienolide 3-O-α-l-rhamnopyranoside, known as deglucohellebrin (7) exerted a strong cytotoxic effect on the same cells and on other cancer cell lines (HepG2 and Caco-2) reducing the S-phase entry (compound 6) and inducing cell apoptosis associated with activation of caspase-3 (compound 7). Moreover we demonstrated that 6 and 7 significantly decreased protein expression of GRP78, a general ER-stress marker, suggesting pro-apoptotic functions. These findings indicated that selected compounds from H. caucasicus are potential interesting agents in anti-cancer therapy.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Bufadienolides; Cell viability; Ecdysteroids; GRP78; Helleborus caucasicus.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects*
  • Down-Regulation
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Chaperone BiP
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism*
  • Helleborus / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Plant Roots / chemistry
  • Rhizome / chemistry
  • Steroids / chemistry
  • Steroids / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Chaperone BiP
  • HSPA5 protein, human
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Steroids