Adult T-cell leukemia (ATL) is an aggressive neoplasm caused by human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1). ATL carries a poor prognosis due to chemotherapy resistance. Thus, it is urgent to develop new treatment strategies. Hypericin (HY) is a new-type of photosensitizer in the context of photodynamic therapy (PDT) due to its excellent photosensitizing properties and anti-tumor activities.
In the present study, we investigated the efficacy of hypericin in ATL cells. Clinically achievable concentrations of hypericin in association with PDT induced the inhibition of cell proliferation in ATL cell lines with minimal effect on peripheral blood CD4 + T lymphocytes. Moreover, hypericin-PDT treatment caused apoptosis and G2/M phase cell cycle arrest in leukemic cells. Western blot analyses revealed that hypericin-PDT treatment resulted in downregulation of Bcl-2 and enhanced the expression of Bad, cytochrome C, and AIF. Cleavage of caspases-3/-7/-9/-8, Bid, and PARP was increased in hypericin-PDT-treated ATL cells. In a luciferase assay, hypericin-PDT treatment was able to activate the promoter activity of Bax and p53, resulting in enhanced expression of Bax and p53 proteins. Finally, hypericin-PDT treatment suppressed the expression of viral protein HBZ and Tax by blocking the promoter activity via HTLV-1 5′LTR and 3′LTR.
Our results revealed that hypericin-PDT is highly effective against ATL cells by induction of apoptosis and suppression of viral transcription. These studies highlight the promising use of hypericin-PDT as a targeted therapy for ATL.