Isodon eriocalyx and its bioactive component Eriocalyxin B enhance cytotoxic and apoptotic effects of gemcitabine in pancreatic cancer

Phytomedicine. 2018 May 15;44:56-64. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2018.03.055. Epub 2018 Mar 20.


Background: Pancreatic cancer, associated with poor prognosis and low survival rate, has been the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the US. Although gemcitabine (Gem) is the first-line chemotherapeutic drug in the management of pancreatic cancer, the median survival extension is only 1.5 months, indicating unsatisfactory clinical results. Therefore, exploring agents that can enhance the anti-cancer activity of Gem would be an attractive strategy.

Purpose: Our previous studies have demonstrated that eriocalyxin b (EriB), an ent‑kaurane diterpenoid isolated from Isodon eriocalyx (Dunn.) Hara, possesses anti-pancreatic cancer effects, thus acting as a potential therapeutic agent. In this study, we further investigated whether EriB or the ethanol extract of I. eriocalyx (Isodon) could potentiate the cytotoxic activity of Gem in human pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells. In addition, the mechanism associated with their effects was also studied.

Methods: The anti-proliferation effect was assessed by MTT assay and Ki-67 immunostaining. The combination effect (addition, synergism and antagonism) of various agents was calculated by the Calcusyn software (Biosoft), utilizing the T.C. Chou Method. Apoptosis was detected using Annexin V and PI double staining followed by quantitative flow cytometry. Protein expression regulated by various treatments was analyzed by western blotting.

Results: The combination index revealed that Gem and EriB (or Isodon extract) had synergistic anti-proliferative effect. Both cellular apoptotic and anti-proliferative effects of Gem were significantly increased after combination with EriB (or Isodon extract). The underlying mechanisms involved in the combination effects were elucidated, which include: (1) increased activation of the caspase cascade; (2) reduction of PDK1 and AKT phosphorylation; (3) induction of JNK phosphorylation by Isodon and Gem combination.

Conclusion: Gem and EriB (or Isodon extract) taken together in combination regulated PDK1/AKT1/caspase and JNK signaling and promoted apoptosis synergistically, which may contribute to the much increased anti-proliferative activity compared to either agent alone.

Keywords: Eriocalyxin B; Gemcitabine; Isodon eriocalyx; Pancreatic cancer; Synergism.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / drug therapy
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Deoxycytidine / administration & dosage
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Diterpenes / administration & dosage
  • Diterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Isodon / chemistry*
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Acetyl-Transferring Kinase


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Diterpenes
  • PDK1 protein, human
  • Plant Extracts
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Acetyl-Transferring Kinase
  • eriocalyxin B
  • Deoxycytidine
  • gemcitabine
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Caspases