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      Celastrol targets mitochondrial respiratory chain complex I to induce reactive oxygen species-dependent cytotoxicity in tumor cells


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          Celastrol is an active ingredient of the traditional Chinese medicinal plant Tripterygium Wilfordii, which exhibits significant antitumor activity in different cancer models in vitro and in vivo; however, the lack of information on the target and mechanism of action of this compound have impeded its clinical application. In this study, we sought to determine the mode of action of celastrol by focusing on the processes that mediate its anticancer activity.


          The downregulation of heat shock protein 90 (HSP90) client proteins, phosphorylation of c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK), and cleavage of PARP, caspase 9 and caspase 3 were detected by western blotting. The accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) was analyzed by flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy. Cell cycle progression, mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) and apoptosis were determined by flow cytometry. Absorption spectroscopy was used to determine the activity of mitochondrial respiratory chain (MRC) complexes.


          Celastrol induced ROS accumulation, G2-M phase blockage, apoptosis and necrosis in H1299 and HepG2 cells in a dose-dependent manner. N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidative agent, inhibited celastrol-induced ROS accumulation and cytotoxicity. JNK phosphorylation induced by celastrol was suppressed by NAC and JNK inhibitor SP600125 (SP). Moreover, SP significantly inhibited celastrol-induced loss of MMP, cleavage of PARP, caspase 9 and caspase 3, mitochondrial translocation of Bad, cytoplasmic release of cytochrome c, and cell death. However, SP did not inhibit celastrol-induced ROS accumulation. Celastrol downregulated HSP90 client proteins but did not disrupt the interaction between HSP90 and cdc37. NAC completely inhibited celastrol-induced decrease of HSP90 client proteins, catalase and thioredoxin. The activity of MRC complex I was completely inhibited in H1299 cells treated with 6 μM celastrol in the absence and presence of NAC. Moreover, the inhibition of MRC complex I activity preceded ROS accumulation in H1299 cells after celastrol treatment.


          We identified ROS as the key intermediate for celastrol-induced cytotoxicity. JNK was activated by celastrol-induced ROS accumulation and then initiated mitochondrial-mediated apoptosis. Celastrol induced the downregulation of HSP90 client proteins through ROS accumulation and facilitated ROS accumulation by inhibiting MRC complex I activity. These results identify a novel target for celastrol-induced anticancer activity and define its mode of action.

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          Role of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in apoptosis induction.

          Reactive oxygen species (ROS) and mitochondria play an important role in apoptosis induction under both physiologic and pathologic conditions. Interestingly, mitochondria are both source and target of ROS. Cytochrome c release from mitochondria, that triggers caspase activation, appears to be largely mediated by direct or indirect ROS action. On the other hand, ROS have also anti-apoptotic effects. This review focuses on the role of ROS in the regulation of apoptosis, especially in inflammatory cells.
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            Mitochondrial complex I inhibitor rotenone induces apoptosis through enhancing mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production.

            Inhibition of mitochondrial respiratory chain complex I by rotenone had been found to induce cell death in a variety of cells. However, the mechanism is still elusive. Because reactive oxygen species (ROS) play an important role in apoptosis and inhibition of mitochondrial respiratory chain complex I by rotenone was thought to be able to elevate mitochondrial ROS production, we investigated the relationship between rotenone-induced apoptosis and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species. Rotenone was able to induce mitochondrial complex I substrate-supported mitochondrial ROS production both in isolated mitochondria from HL-60 cells as well as in cultured cells. Rotenone-induced apoptosis was confirmed by DNA fragmentation, cytochrome c release, and caspase 3 activity. A quantitative correlation between rotenone-induced apoptosis and rotenone-induced mitochondrial ROS production was identified. Rotenone-induced apoptosis was inhibited by treatment with antioxidants (glutathione, N-acetylcysteine, and vitamin C). The role of rotenone-induced mitochondrial ROS in apoptosis was also confirmed by the finding that HT1080 cells overexpressing magnesium superoxide dismutase were more resistant to rotenone-induced apoptosis than control cells. These results suggest that rotenone is able to induce apoptosis via enhancing the amount of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production.
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              Gene expression signature-based chemical genomic prediction identifies a novel class of HSP90 pathway modulators.

              Although androgen receptor (AR)-mediated signaling is central to prostate cancer, the ability to modulate AR signaling states is limited. Here we establish a chemical genomic approach for discovery and target prediction of modulators of cancer phenotypes, as exemplified by AR signaling. We first identify AR activation inhibitors, including a group of structurally related compounds comprising celastrol, gedunin, and derivatives. To develop an in silico approach for target pathway identification, we apply a gene expression-based analysis that classifies HSP90 inhibitors as having similar activity to celastrol and gedunin. Validating this prediction, we demonstrate that celastrol and gedunin inhibit HSP90 activity and HSP90 clients, including AR. Broadly, this work identifies new modes of HSP90 modulation through a gene expression-based strategy.

                Author and article information

                BMC Cancer
                BMC Cancer
                BioMed Central
                14 May 2011
                : 11
                : 170
                [1 ]Department of Pathology, Beijing Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, 27 Taiping Road, Beijing 100850, China
                Copyright ©2011 Chen et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 11 September 2010
                : 14 May 2011
                Research Article

                Oncology & Radiotherapy
                Oncology & Radiotherapy


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