Research Papers:

Glycyrrhetinic acid induces cytoprotective autophagy via the inositol-requiring enzyme 1α-c-Jun N-terminal kinase cascade in non-small cell lung cancer cells

Zheng-Hai Tang, Le-Le Zhang, Ting Li, Jia-Hong Lu, Dik-Lung Ma, Chung-Hang Leung, Xiu-Ping Chen, Hu-Lin Jiang, Yi-Tao Wang and Jin-Jian Lu _

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Oncotarget. 2015; 6:43911-43926. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.6084

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Zheng-Hai Tang1, Le-Le Zhang1, Ting Li1, Jia-Hong Lu1, Dik-Lung Ma2, Chung-Hang Leung1, Xiu-Ping Chen1, Hu-Lin Jiang3, Yi-Tao Wang1, Jin-Jian Lu1

1State Key Laboratory of Quality Research in Chinese Medicine, Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences, University of Macau, Macao, China

2Department of Chemistry, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong, China

3State Key Laboratory of Natural Medicines, Department of Pharmaceutics, China Pharmaceutical University, Nanjing, China

Correspondence to:

Jin-Jian Lu, e-mail: [email protected], [email protected]

Keywords: glycyrrhetinic acid, autophagy, JNK, IRE1α, protective

Received: May 29, 2015     Accepted: October 23, 2015     Published: November 03, 2015


Glycerrhetinic acid (GA), one of the main bioactive constituents of Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch, exerts anti-cancer effects on various cancer cells. We confirmed that GA inhibited cell proliferation and induced apoptosis in non-small cell lung cancer A549 and NCI-H1299 cells. GA also induced expression of autophagy marker phosphatidylethanolamine-modified microtubule-associated protein light-chain 3 (LC3-II) and punta formation of green fluorescent protein microtubule-associated protein light-chain 3. We further proved that expression of GA-increased autophagy marker was attributed to activation instead of suppression of autophagic flux. The c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathway was activated after incubation with GA. Pretreatment with the JNK inhibitor SP600125 or silencing of the JNK pathway by siRNA of JNK or c-jun decreased GA-induced autophagy. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress responses were also apparently stimulated by GA by triggering the inositol-requiring enzyme 1α (IRE1α) pathway. The GA-induced JNK pathway activation and autophagy were decreased by IRE1α knockdown, and inhibition of autophagy or the JNK cascade increased GA-stimulated IRE1α expression. In addition, GA-induced cell proliferative inhibition and apoptosis were increased by inhibition of autophagy or the JNK pathway. Our study was the first to demonstrate that GA induces cytoprotective autophagy in non-small cell lung cancer cells by activating the IRE1α-JNK/c-jun pathway. The combined treatment of autophagy inhibitors markedly enhances the anti-neoplasmic activity of GA. Such combination shows potential as a strategy for GA or GA-contained prescriptions in cancer therapy.

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