Background: Gambogic acid (GA) was extracted from the dried yellow resin of gamboge (Garcinia hanburyi) which is traditionally used as a coloring material for painting and cloth dying. Gamboge has been also used as a folk medicine for an internal purgative and externally infected wound. We focused on the mechanisms of apoptosis induction by GA through the unfold protein response (ER stress) in HeLa cells. Methods: The cytotoxic effect of GA against HeLa cells was determined by trypan blue exclusion assay. Markers of ER stress such as XBP-1, GRP78, CHOP, GADD34 and ERdj4 were analyzed by RT-PCR and Real-time RT-PCR. Cell morphological changes and apoptotic proteins were performed by Hoechst33342 staining and Western blotting technique. Results: Our results indicated a time- and dose-dependent decrease of cell viability by GA. The ER stress induction is determined by the up-regulation of spliced XBP1 mRNA and activated GRP78, CHOP, GADD34 and ERdj4 expression. GA also induced cell morphological changes such as nuclear condensation, membrane blebbing and apoptotic body in Hela cells. Apoptosis cell death detected by increased DR5, caspase-8, -9, and -3 expression as well as increased cleaved-PARP, while decreased Bcl-2 upon GA treatment. In addition, phosphorylated JNK was up-regulated but phosphorylated ERK was down-regulated after exposure to GA. Conclusions: These results suggest that GA induce apoptosis associated with the ER stress response through up-regulation of p-JNK and down-regulation of p-ERK in HeLa cells.
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