Blocking autophagy enhances the apoptosis effect of bufalin on human hepatocellular carcinoma cells through endoplasmic reticulum stress and JNK activation

Fengli Hu, Jiwu Han, Bo Zhai, Xiaodong Ming, Liwei Zhuang, Yong Liu, Shangha Pan, Tiefu Liu
Apoptosis: An International Journal on Programmed Cell Death 2014, 19 (1): 210-23
Bufalin extracts are a part of traditional Chinese medicine, Chansu. In the current study, we investigated the effect of bufalin on the proliferation of the human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines, Huh-7 and HepG-2, and explored the therapeutic potential of the drug. Our results demonstrated that bufalin markedly inhibited cell proliferation and promoted apoptosis in the Huh-7 and HepG-2 cells in vitro. The underlying mechanism of the bufalin-induced apoptosis was the induction of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress via the IRE1-JNK pathway. In addition, during the ER stress response, the autophagy pathway, characterized by the conversion of LC3-I to LC3-II, was activated, resulting in increased Beclin-1 protein levels, decreased p62 expression and stimulation of autophagic flux. Our data supported the pro-survival role of bufalin-induced autophagy when the autophagy pathway was blocked with specific chemical inhibitors; the involvement of the IRE1 pathway in the ER stress-induced autophagy was also demonstrated when the expression of IRE1 and CHOP was silenced using siRNA. These data indicate that combining bufalin with a specific autophagy inhibitor could be a promising therapeutic approach for the treatment of HCC.

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