New anticancer agents with lower toxicity have been always urged because of drug resistance associated with overused chemotherapy agents. In this study, steviol, a colonic metabolite of natural sweetener and also a component in leaves of stevia rebaudiana bertoni, was found to possess intensive anticancer activity on the human gastrointestinal cancer cells. Steviol inhibited six human gastrointestinal cancer cells intensively as 5-fluorouracil did at 100 μg/mL. The inhibition mechanism follows mitochondrial apoptotic pathway that was evidenced by increase of Bax/Bcl-2 ratio, activation of p21 and p53; and caspase 3-independent mechanism was also involved. These results are consistent with the miRNA expression analysis. The most regulated miRNAs in the steviol treated gastrointestinal cancer cells were miR-203a-3p (log2 =1.32) and miR-6088 (log2 =-2.54) in HCT-116, miR-1268b (log2 =19.85) and miR-23c (log2 =-2.05) in MKN-45. In view of the metabolic characteristics of steviol and its cytotoxicity on the cancer cells, steviol could be a chemotherapy agent potentially for cancer treatment.
Keywords: cancer; gastrointestinal; steviol; steviol glycoside.