Background: Colorectal cancer is a common malignant tumor of the digestive tract. In recent years, the incidence rate has increased year by year and is showing a younger trend. The application of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) is one of the important methods for the treatment of colorectal cancer. CHM refers to the main therapeutic drugs based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which is still valued. Many effective anticancer small-molecule compounds are derived from CHMs, and their effective anticancer ingredients and targets must be clarified and to further understand the molecular mechanisms by which CHM affects cancer.
Methods: We analyzed the ingredients in CHM that were found to be effective against colorectal cancer and constructed an interaction network among these ingredients and the target protein. By analyzing the number of connections in the network and their type of interaction, we identified the key target protein Corticosteroid 11-beta-dehydrogenase isozyme 2, the enzyme encoded by HSD11B2. Analyses of HSD11B2 expression, survival curve, and co-expressed genes helped clarify the correlation between HSD11B2 and colorectal cancer as well as its underlying molecular mechanism.
Results: We determined that the anticancer ingredients contained in Sanguisorba officinalis, Patrinia scabiosaefolia, and Smilax china had more connections to the target proteins found in colorectal cancer. In the interaction network, eight small-molecule compounds had an activating effect on HSD11B2. The expression of the HSD11B2 was markedly decreased in colorectal cancer tissues and was positively correlated with the overall survival time of patients. In addition, co-expression analyses showed a close relationship between HSD11B2 and tissue-specific genes in colorectal tissues. The expression levels of HSD11B2 in well-, moderately, and poorly differentiated tissues progressively decreased.
Conclusion: The HSD11B2 protein was a key CHM target for treating colorectal cancer. The key role of CHM may lie in activating HSD11B2 and further promoting tissue differentiation in colorectal cancer.
Keywords: Chinese herbal medicine; Colorectal cancer; HSD11B2; Network pharmacology; Tissue specificity; Traditional Chinese medicine.
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