Anticancer activity of caffeic acid n‑butyl ester against A431 skin carcinoma cell line occurs via induction of apoptosis and inhibition of the mTOR/PI3K/AKT signaling pathway
Retraction in: /10.3892/mmr.2021.12011
Affiliations: Department of Plastics and Aesthetic Surgery, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hubei 430030, P.R. China
- Published online on: February 13, 2018 https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2018.8599
- Pages: 5652-5657
Copyright: © Zeng et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution License.
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Skin cancer is one among the primary causes of mortality worldwide (1). It has been previously estimated that ~1 in every 5 Americans will develop skin cancer (2). The increasing prevalence of skin cancer requires novel treatment options for the management of skin cancer. Preliminary responses to chemotherapy and/or surgical interventions are available; however, the persistence of tumor relapse has been previously observed (3). In addition, the side effects associated with synthetic drugs severely affect the quality of life of patients. Drugs from natural sources have gained considerable attention. Flavonoids form one of the largest groups of plant-derived secondary metabolites that have evolved across the plant kingdom billions of years ago. Flavonoids are an important part of almost all edible plants, which include, but are not limited to, fruits and vegetables. Therefore, flavonoids are consumed in significant amounts as part of a healthy diet. It has been previously reported that humans consume ~30 mg flavonoids daily (4). Furthermore, flavonoids are present in a number of medicinally important plants; herbal preparations have been extensively used in traditional systems of medicine, particularly in China (5). With advancements in medical research, flavonoids are being investigated for variation in bioactivities. These compounds have been reported to exhibit various bioactivities, including anti-inflammatory, estrogenic, enzyme inhibition, antimicrobial, anti-allergy, antioxidant and antitumor (4,6). There is considerable epidemiological evidence on the anticancer effects of flavonoids. A number of epidemiological studies have indicated that high flavonoid intake may be correlated with a reduced risk of cancer (7,8). As these compounds have a fairly consistent structure, flavonoids impede the activity of a wide range of eukaryotic enzymes; therefore, they exhibit variation in activities. The structural parts of flavonoid molecules have been considered critical for their bioactivities (7,8). Additionally, flavonoids are ubiquitously present in edible plants and beverages and are believed to have minimal toxicity. The present study evaluated the anticancer activity of a natural flavonoid, caffeic acid n-butyl ester (CAE) in various cell lines. CAE exhibited the highest activity against the A431 skin carcinoma cell line. CAE induced A431 cell apoptosis, which may have been mediated by reactive oxygen species (ROS) accretion and reductions in mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP). Furthermore, CAE inhibited the expression of some of the key proteins of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/protein kinase B (AKT)/mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway, which has been considered an important target for treatment of different types of cancers. Therefore, CAE may be beneficial in the treatment and management of skin carcinoma; however, further investigation is required.
Materials and methods
Chemicals and reagents
The following chemicals were used in the present study. CAE, RNase A, Triton X-100 and dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich (Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany). Primary and secondary antibodies were obtained from Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc. (Dallas, TX, USA). The fluorescent probes DCFH-DA, DiOC6, DAPI, propidium iodide (PI), fetal bovine serum (FBS), RPMI-1640 medium, L-glutamine and antibiotics were obtained from Invitrogen (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., Waltham, MA, USA).
Cell line and culture conditions
Human lung cancer cell line (A549), pancreas (MIA PaCa-2), prostate (PC-3), breast (MCF-7), gastric (SNU-5), colon (HTB-39), normal human fibroblast FR2 and skin cancer (A431) cell lines were obtained from the Cancer Research Institute of Beijing (Beijing, China) and were cultured continuously in RPMI-1640 supplemented with 10% FBS containing antibiotics, 100 µg/ml streptomycin and 100 U/ml penicillin G and maintained at 37°C and 5% CO2.
The anti-proliferative effects of CAE were investigated in the 8 aforementioned cell lines using an MTT assay. All cells were cultured at 37°C at a density of 1×106 cells/well in 96-well plates for 12 h. The cells were then subsequently treated with 0–200 µM CAE for 24 h. Subsequently, 20 µl MTT solution was added to each well. Prior to the addition of 500 µl DMSO, the medium was completely removed. The MTT formazan crystals were dissolved by adding 500 µl DMSO. The absorbance was detected using an ELISA plate reader (optical density at 570 nm). As CAE exhibited the lowest half-maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) against A431 cells, subsequent experiments were conducted within this cell line at concentrations of 0, 10, 20 and 40 µM CAE.
Colony formation assay
The effect of CAE on the colony formation potential of A431 cells was investigated when cells were collected at the exponential phase of growth and the cells were then counted using a hemocytometer. Cells were seeded at a density of 200 cells/well and maintained at 37°C for 48 h to permit cell adherence. Subsequently, 0, 10, 20 and 40 µM CAE was administered. Following the treatment with CAE, cells were incubated at 37°C for 6 days. Following incubation, cells were washed with PBS and fixed with methanol at −20°C for 4 min and then stained with crystal violet for 30 min at room temperature, then counted under a light microscope (magnification, ×200).
Detection of apoptosis
A431 cells were seeded at the density of 1×106 cells/well in 6-well plates and subsequently treated with 0, 10, 20 and 40 µM CAE for 24 h, followed by DAPI staining at 25°C for 5 min. Then, the cell samples were examined via fluorescence microscopy (magnification, ×200).
A431 cells were plated at a density of 1×106 cells/well in 6-wellplates and treated with 0, 10, 20 and 40 µM CAE for 24 h. Subsequently, the cells were collected and washed with PBS. The cells were then incubated with Annexin V/FITC and PI for 15 min at 25°C, and apoptosis was estimated using flow cytometry and BD FACSuite software v1.0 (BD Biosciences, San Jose, CA, USA).
Cell cycle analysis
To investigate the dissemination of A431 cells in different phases of the cell cycle, ~1×105 cells/well in 6-well plates were maintained at 37°C overnight to allow cell adherence. Cells were then treated with 0, 10, 20 and 40 µM CAE and then the plates were incubated at 37°C for 24 h. Subsequently, the cells were trypsinized and resuspended in ice-cold PBS, followed by treatment with ethanol (70%) and allowed to fix overnight at −20°C. Following fixation with ethanol, cells were treated with ice-cold PBS twice and subjected to centrifugation (800 × g) for 10 min at 4°C. Cells were then resuspended in 1 ml PI/Triton-X 100 solution for 30 min in the dark. Finally, the dissemination of the cells at each phase were examined using 8,000 cells in a FACScan flow cytometer (BD Biosciences). The estimated percentage of cells in each phase of the cell cycle was quantified using WinMDI softwarev2.0 (Informer Technologies, Inc., Los Angeles, CA, USA).
Determination of ROS and MMP
A431 cells were seeded at a density of 2×105 cells/well in a 6-well plate and maintained for 24 h at 37°C and treated with 0, 10, 20 and 40 µM CAEfor 24 h at 37°C in 5% CO2 and 95% air. Subsequently, cells from all samples were collected, washed twice with PBS and re-suspended in 500 µl DCFH-DA (10 µM) for ROS quantification or 3,3-dihexyloxacarbocyanine iodide (1 µmol/l) for MMP analysis at 37°C in a dark room for 30 min. The samples were then examined instantly using a flow cytometer (WinMDI software version 2.0 (Informer Technologies, Inc.).
Cell migration assay
Cell migration analysis was performed using the Boyden chamber assay with some modifications. Cells at the density of 5×104 cells/well were suspended in RPMI-1640 medium supplemented with 2% FBS and placed in the upper chamber of 8-µm pore size Transwell inserts. Subsequently, RPMI-1640 medium medium supplemented with 10% FBS was added to lower chamber, followed by an incubation for 24 h at 37°C. On the upper surface of the membrane, non-migrated cells were removed and migrated cells on the lower surface of the membrane were fixed in 100% methanol and Giemsa stained at 20°C for 4 h. Cell migration was estimated by counting the number of the migrated cells under a microscope (Olympus CH20i, Binocular version; Olympus Corporation, Tokyo, Japan, magnification, ×200).
Western blotting analysis
Protein expression was determined by western blot analysis. The cells were lysed in lysis buffer [20 mM 4-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperazineethanesulphonic acid, 350 mM NaCl, 20% glycerol, 1% Nonidet P 40, 1 mM MgCl2, 0.5 mM EDTA, 0.1 mM EGTA, 1 mM DTT, 1 mM PMSF, protease inhibitor cocktail and phosphatase inhibitor cocktail]. Briefly, proteins present in the cell extracts were resolved by 10% SDS-PAGE. This was followed by transfer on nitrocellulose membrane. The membrane was blocked with 5% non-fat milk in PBS and then incubated with primary antibody primary antibody [AKT, sc-135829; phosphorylated (p)-AKT, sc-7985-R; PI3K, sc-136298; mTOR, sc-517464 and p-mTOR, sc-293133] for overnight at 4°C (all 1:1,000), followed by incubation with horse radish peroxidase-conjugated (cat. no. 9003-99-0) and anti-rabbit secondary antibody (sc-2372) for 1 h at room temperature. All antibodies were purchased from purchased from Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc. The western blots were visualized using an enhanced chemiluminescence system (GE Healthcare, Chicago, IL, USA). The western blots were quantified by my Image Analysis software v1.0 (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc.).
The experiments were performed in triplicate and data are presented as the mean ± standard deviation. Statistical analysis was performed sing a one-way analysis of variance followed by a Tukeys post-hoc test using GraphPad prism version 7 (GraphPad Software, Inc. La Jolla CA, USA). P<0.05 was considered to indicate statistically significant difference.
Anticancer effects of CAE on the A431 cell
In order to investigate the anticancer effects of CAE on various cancer cell lines, cells were treated with CAE at various concentrations and the IC50 was determined for each cell line (Table I). CAE exhibited significant anticancer effects on A431 cells with an observed IC50 of 20 µM. However, CAE exerted less cytotoxic effects on normal human fibroblasts (Table I). The effect of CAE on the cell viability demonstrated a dose-dependent manner (Fig. 1A). In addition, CAE treatment led to reduced A431 colony formation in a dose-dependent manner (Fig. 1B).
Effects of indicated concentrations of CAE on (A) cell viability and (B) colony formation. Data are presented as the mean ± standard deviation of three independent experiments. *P<0.001, **P<0.001 and ***P<0.0001 vs. control. CAE, caffeic acid n-butyl ester.
CAE induces the apoptosis of A431 cells
To examine whether the anticancer effects of CAE were due to the induction of apoptosis, A431 cells were treated with CAE and apoptosis was determined by DAPI staining. The results of the present study demonstrated that CAE induced A431 cell apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner, as demonstrated by an increase in the number of cells with white-colored nuclei (Fig. 2). The number of apoptotic cells was determined using flow cytometry (Fig. 3). The percentage of apoptotic cells increased from 1.25% in the control to 46.37% in the 40 µM CAE-treated group. In order to determine examine whether apoptosis occurred following the mitochondrial signalling pathway, the protein expression levels of B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) and BCL2-associated X(Bax) were determined. The results of the present study revealed that the protein expression of Bax was upregulated in a dose-dependent manner, where as Bcl-2 expression levels were reduced with increased CAE concentration (Fig. 4).
Induction of apoptosis by caffeic acid n-butyl ester at indicated concentrations as depicted by DAPI staining. All experiments were carried out in triplicate.
Estimation of apoptotic cell populations at indicated concentrations of caffeic acid n-butyl ester by Annexin V/propidium iodide staining followed by flow cytometry. Experiments were carried out in triplicate.
Effect of CAE on the protein expression of Bax and Bcl-2 was determined using western blot analysis. The experiments were carried out in triplicates. *P<0.001, **P<0.001 and ***P<0.0001 vs. control. Bcl-2, B-cell lymphoma 2; Bax, Bcl-2-associated X; CAE, caffeic acid n-butyl ester.
CAE induces the activation of ROS and reduction of MMP
The pro-apoptotic potential of CAE observed via Annexin V/FITC staining indicated that CAE induced accretion of intracellular ROS. Therefore, the ROS levels in cells treated with various doses of CAE for 24 h were investigated. The findings of the present study revealed that the intracellular ROS levels of CAE-treated cells increased by 210% in the 40 µM CAE-treated group (Fig. 5A). These observations indicated that CAE is an effective molecule that may stimulate the accumulation of ROS within A431 cells to induce apoptosis.
Effects of indicated concentration of CAE on (A) ROS generation and (B) MMP. Data are presented as the mean ± standard deviation of three independent experiments. *P<0.001, **P<0.001 and ***P<0.0001 vs. control.MMP, mitochondrial membrane potential; ROS, reactive oxygen species. CAE, caffeic acid n-butyl ester.
ROS generation is associated with mitochondrial dysfunction
ROS leads to an imbalance in the outer mitochondrial potential resulting in the release of apoptosis-inducing proteins (9). The effect of different CAE doses on MMP in A431 cells was investigated in the present study. CAE-treated A431 cells exhibited a marked reduction in MMP in a dose-dependent manner. The MMP was reduced 42% within the 40 µM CAE-treated group (Fig. 5B).
CAE induces cell cycle arrest
To examine the impact of CAE on the cell cycle phase distribution of A431 cells, the cells were treated with 0, 10, 20 and 40 µM of CAE for 24 h. The number of cells in the G2 phase increased in a dose-dependent manner leading to a cell cycle arrest (Fig. 6). CAE-treatment of 40 µM was associated with a marked increase in G2 phase cells.
CAE triggers G2/M cell cycle arrest at indicated doses of CAE. Experiments were performed in triplicate. CAE, caffeic acid n-butyl ester.
CAE inhibits cell migration
The effects of CAE on cell migration of A431 cell migration were investigated (Fig. 7). The results of cell migration assay following CAE treatment (0, 10, 20 and 40 µM) for 24 h indicated that CAE reduced the motility and migration of the of A431 cells in a dose-dependent manner.
Effects of CAE on the migration of A431 cells at indicated concentrations. Experiments were performed in triplicate. *P<0.001, **P<0.001 and ***P<0.0001 vs. control.
CAE targets the mTOR/PI3K/AKT signaling pathway
The mTOR/PI3K/AKT signalling cascade is considered to be one of the crucial pathways that maybe targeted for the treatment of cancer (9). In the present study, the effects of CAE on the expression levels of important pathway proteins were investigated. The results demonstrated that CAE-treated cells exhibited a dose-dependent downregulation of mTOR and p-mTOR compared with untreated cells (Fig. 8). In addition, PI3K/AKT expression was also suppressed in response to CAE treatment. Therefore, CAE may have exhibited an anticancer effect via the mTOR/PI3K/AKT signalling cascade.
Western blot analysis demonstrated the effect of indicated concentrations of CAE on expression of mTOR/PI3K/AKT signaling pathway proteins. The experiments were performed in triplicates. *P<0.001, **P<0.001 and ***P<0.0001 vs. control. p, phosphorylated; AKT, protein kinase B; mTOR, mechanistic target of rapamycin; PI3K, phosphoinositide 3-kinase.
Skin cancers are among the principal causes of mortality in humans, particularly in the Caucasian population (1). The increasing prevalence of skin malignancies demands the development of novel treatment strategies (1). Plants are considered to be important source of anticancer drugs; therefore, various natural compounds from plants have been used as anticancer drugs (10). CAE is an important flavonoid commonly found in several plant species and has been previously reported to exhibit a marked pharmacological potential (11). The anticancer effects of CAE on cervix adenocarcinoma, oropharyngeal carcinoma, breast cancer and melanoma have been previously reported (11). In the present study, the anticancer activity of CAE was investigated in various human cancer cell lines and normal human fibroblasts. The results indicated that CAE had a potent inhibitory effect on the growth and colony forming potential of A431 cells, as investigated via the proliferation and colony formation assays respectively. It has been demonstrated that various drugs inhibit growth by inducing apoptosis. For example, multiple chemotherapeutic agents, including cisplatin, taxol and 5-fluorouracil (11,12) have been reported to alter specific apoptotic signalling pathways. In addition, the resistance of the cancer cells to a particular drug maybe partially due to the ability to inhibit apoptosis (13). To examine whether CAE induces the apoptosis of A431 cells, the CAE-treated cells were subjected to DAPI staining. The results of the present study revealed that CAE induced apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, CAE-treated cells demonstrated a reduction in ROS-induced MMP (Fig. 5). The results of the present study are supported by previous investigations (14,15); CAE may induce apoptosis damage via the accretion of high ROS levels and a reduction in MMP. It has been previously reported that numerous anticancer drugs exert cytotoxic effects on cancer cells via the generation of ROS (15). Furthermore, mitochondria have an important role in ROS. Capsaicin imbalances MMP and mediates oxidative stress leading to apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells (16). The findings of the present study may contribute to the development of skin cancer treatments as this type of cancer has been reported to exhibit high rates of mortality (17). The effects of CAE on the protein expression levels of mTOR, p-mTOR, PI3K, p-PI3K and AKT were determined using western blot analysis. In addition, CAE-treated cells exhibited a dose-dependent inhibition of mTOR and p-mTOR protein expression and a reduction in PI3K/AKT protein expression.
In conclusion, the findings of the present study indicated that CAE may be a potential treatment for skin cancer by targeting the mTOR/PI3K/AKT signaling cascade. As available treatment options are limited, naturally occurring CAE may be considered a potential treatment for skin cancer due to its associated low toxicity; however, further investigation in vivo is required.
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