Marsdenia tenacissima extract induces apoptosis and suppresses autophagy through ERK activation in lung cancer cells

Cancer Cell Int. 2018 Sep 27;18:149. doi: 10.1186/s12935-018-0646-4. eCollection 2018.


Background: Marsdenia tenacissima is an herb medicine which has been utilized to treat malignant diseases for decades. The M. tenacissima extract (MTE) shows significant anti-proliferation activity against non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. In this study, we explored the potential anti-proliferation mechanisms of MTE in NSCLC cells in relation to apoptosis as well as autophagy, which are two critical forms to control cancer cell survival and death.

Methods: The proliferation of H1975 and A549 cells was evaluated by MTT assay. Cell apoptosis was assessed by Annexin V and PI staining, Caspase 3 expression and activity. Autophagy flux proteins were detected by Western blot with or without autophagy inducer and inhibitor. Endogenous LC3-II puncta and LysoTracker staining were monitored by confocal microscopy. The formation of autophagic vacuoles was measured by acridine orange staining. ERK is a crucial molecule to interplay with cell autophagy and apoptosis. The role of ERK on cell apoptosis and autophagy influenced by MTE was determined in the presence of MEK/ERK inhibitor U0126.

Results: The significant growth inhibition and apoptosis induction were observed in MTE treated NSCLC cells. MTE induced cell apoptosis coexisted with elevated Caspase 3 activity. MTE also impaired autophagic flux by upregulated LC3-II and p62 expression. Autophagy inducer EBSS could not abolish the impaired autophagic flux by MTE, while it was augmented in the presence of autophagy inhibitor Baf A1. The autophagosome-lysosome fusion was blocked by MTE via affecting lysosome function as evidenced by decreased expression of LAMP1 and Cathepsin B. The molecule ERK became hyperactivated after MTE treatment, but the MEK/ERK inhibitor U0126 abrogated autophagy inhibition and apoptosis induction caused by MTE, suggested that ERK signaling pathways partially contributed to cell death caused by MTE.

Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that MTE caused apoptosis induction as well as autophagy inhibition in NSCLC cells. The activated ERK is partially associated with NSCLC apoptotic and autophagic cell death in response to MTE treatment. The present findings reveal new mechanisms for the anti-tumor activity of MTE against NSCLC.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Autophagy; ERK activation; Marsdenia tenacissima extract (MTE); NSCLC.