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Mitochondrial Pathway Mediates the Antileukemic Effects of Hemidesmus Indicus, a Promising Botanical Drug
Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Author: Carmela Fimognari et al.

by Carmela Fimognari, Monia Lenzi, Lorenzo Ferruzzi, Eleonora Turrini, Paolo Scartezzini, Ferruccio Poli, Roberto Gotti, Alessandra Guerrini, Giovanni Carulli, Virginia Ottaviano, Giorgio Cantelli-Forti, Patrizia Hrelia


Although cancers are characterized by the deregulation of multiple signalling pathways, most current anticancer therapies involve the modulation of a single target. Because of the enormous biological diversity of cancer, strategic combination of agents targeted against the most critical of those alterations is needed. Due to their complex nature, plant products interact with numerous targets and influence several biochemical and molecular cascades. The interest in further development of botanical drugs has been increasing steadily and the FDA recently approved the first new botanical prescription drug. The present study is designed to explore the potential antileukemic properties of Hemidesmus indicus with a view to contributing to further development of botanical drugs. Hemidesmus was submitted to an extensive in vitro preclinical evaluation.

Methodology/Principal Findings

A variety of cellular assays and flow cytometry, as well as a phytochemical screening, were performed on different leukemic cell lines. We have demonstrated that Hemidesmus modulated many components of intracellular signaling pathways involved in cell viability and proliferation and altered the protein expression, eventually leading to tumor cell death, mediated by a loss of mitochondrial transmembrane potential and increased Bax/Bcl-2 ratio. ADP, adenine nucleotide translocator and mitochondrial permeability transition pore inhibitors did not reverse Hemidesmus-induced mitochondrial depolarization. Hemidesmus induced a significant [Ca2+]i raise through the mobilization of intracellular Ca2+ stores. Moreover, Hemidesmus significantly enhanced the antitumor activity of three commonly used chemotherapeutic drugs (methotrexate, 6-thioguanine, cytarabine). A clinically relevant observation is that its cytotoxic activity was also recorded in primary cells from acute myeloid leukemic patients.


These results indicate the molecular basis of the antileukemic effects of Hemidesmus and identify the mitochondrial pathways and [Ca2+]i as crucial actors in its anticancer activity. On these bases, we conclude that Hemidesmus can represent a valuable tool in the anticancer pharmacology, and should be considered for further investigations.