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1.  Astragalus saponins modulates colon cancer development by regulating calpain-mediated glucose-regulated protein expression 
Glucose-regulated proteins (GRP) are induced in the cancer microenvironment to promote tumor survival, metastasis and drug resistance. AST was obtained from the medicinal plant Astragalus membranaceus, which possesses anti-tumor and pro-apoptotic properties in colon cancer cells and tumor xenograft. The present study aimed to investigate the involvement of GRP in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-mediated apoptosis during colon cancer development, with focus on the correlation between AST-evoked regulation of GRP and calpain activation.
The effects of AST on GRP and apoptotic activity were assessed in HCT 116 human colon adenocarcinoma cells. Calpain activity was examined by using a fluorescence assay kit. Immunofluorescence staining and immunoprecipitation were employed to determine the localization and association between calpains and GRP. GRP78 gene silencing was performed to confirm the importance of GRP in anticancer drug activities. The modulation of GRP and calpains was also studied in nude mice xenograft.
ER stress-mediated apoptosis was induced by AST, as shown by elevation in both spliced XBP-1 and CHOP levels, with parallel up-regulation of GRP. The expression of XBP-1 and CHOP continued to increase after the peak level of GRP was attained at 24 h. Nevertheless, the initial increase in calpain activity as well as calpain I and II protein level was gradually declined at later stage of drug treatment. Besides, the induction of GRP was partly reversed by calpain inhibitors, with concurrent promotion of AST-mediated apoptosis. The knockdown of GRP78 by gene silencing resulted in higher sensitivity of colon cancer cells to AST-induced apoptosis and reduction of colony formation. The association between calpains and GRP78 had been confirmed by immunofluorescence staining and immunoprecipitation. Modulation of GRP and calpains by AST was similarly demonstrated in nude mice xenograft, leading to significant inhibition of tumor growth.
Our findings exemplify that calpains, in particular calpain II, play a permissive role in the modulation of GRP78 and consequent regulation of ER stress-induced apoptosis. Combination of calpain inhibitors and AST could exhibit a more pronounced pro-apoptotic effect. These results help to envisage a new therapeutic approach in colon cancer by targeting calpain and GRP.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-401) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4210535  PMID: 25319833
GRP78; Calpain inhibitor; ER stress; Gene silencing; AST; Apoptosis; Metastasis; Tumor xenograft
2.  Astragalus saponins downregulate vascular endothelial growth factor under cobalt chloride-stimulated hypoxia in colon cancer cells 
Our ongoing research has revealed that total saponins extracted from the medicinal herb Radix Astragali (AST) exhibits significant growth-inhibitory and proapoptotic effects in human cancer cells. In the present study, the potential of AST in controlling angiogenesis was further investigated with elaboration of the underlying molecular mechanism in human colon cancer cell and tumor xenograft.
AST decreased the protein level of VEGF and bFGF in HCT 116 colon cancer cells in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Among the Akt/mTOR signal transduction molecules being examined, AST caused PTEN upregulation, reduction in Akt phosphorylation and subsequent activation of mTOR. AST also suppressed the induction of HIF-1╬▒ and VEGF under CoCl2-mimicked hypoxia. These effects were intensified by combined treatment of AST with the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin. Despite this, our data also indicate that AST could attenuate cobalt chloride-evoked COX-2 activation, while such effect on COX-2 and its downstream target VEGF was intensified when indomethacin was concurrently treated. The anti-carcinogenic action of AST was further illustrated in HCT 116 xenografted athymic nude mice. AST significantly suppressed tumor growth and reduced serum VEGF level in vivo. In the tumor tissues excised from AST-treated animals, protein level of p-Akt, p-mTOR, VEGF, VEGFR1 and VEGFR2 was down-regulated. Immunohistochemistry has also revealed that AST effectively reduced the level of COX-2 in tumor sections when compared with that in untreated control.
Taken together, these findings suggest that AST exerts anti-carcinogenic activity in colon cancer cells through modulation of mTOR signaling and downregulation of COX-2, which together reduce VEGF level in tumor cells that could potentially suppress angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3493357  PMID: 22992293
Astragalus saponins; Hypoxia; VEGF; Akt/mTOR; COX-2; Colon cancer

Results 1-2 (2)