Apoptosis mediates the selective toxicity of caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) toward oncogene-transformed rat embryo fibroblast cells

Anticancer Res. 1995 Sep-Oct;15(5B):1841-8.


The active component of the folk medicine propolis, caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), displays selective toxicity toward cloned rat embryo fibroblast (CREF) cells transformed by a spectrum of diverse acting oncogenes. Identification of the mode of action of CAPE should provide useful information for possible applications of this compound for cancer therapy. The present study uses a series of oncogene transformed, oncogene-reverted and CAPE-resistant oncogene transformed CREF cells to investigate the mechanism underlying the increased sensitivity of transformed cells to CAPE. A direct relationship exists between the cytotoxic effects of CAPE and the induction of DNA fragmentation and apoptosis. DNA degradation into nucleosomal fragments and apoptotic shifts in DNA cell cycle profiles occur in CAPE-treated CREF cells transformed by wild-type 5 adenovirus (Ad5), a mutant Ad5 (H5hr1), the wild-type Ad5 E1A transforming gene, v-src, Ha-ras and the human papilloma virus type 18 transforming genes (HPV-18). In contrast, untransformed CREF cells, human fibroblast expression library-induced morphological revertants of Ad5- and v-src-transformed CREF cells, and Krev-1 expressing revertant Ha-ras-transformed CREF cells are resistant to CAPE-induced toxicity and apoptosis. Similarly, mutant Ad5-transformed CREF cells selected by step-wise growth in increasing concentrations of CAPE are resistant to growth inhibition and apoptosis induced by CAPE. These findings indicate that expression of the transformed phenotype by rodent cells evokes sensitivity to CAPE induced toxicity through apoptosis. The acquisition of CAPE sensitivity in rodent cells is independent of the mode of action of the oncogenic agent. CAPE may prove useful as an antiproliferative agent in cancer cells transformed by mechanistically diverse acting oncogenes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Caffeic Acids / toxicity*
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Oncogenes*
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / toxicity
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344


  • Caffeic Acids
  • caffeic acid phenethyl ester
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol