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World J Gastroenterol. 2010 Sep 14;16(34):4281-90.

Antitumor effect of matrine in human hepatoma G2 cells by inducing apoptosis and autophagy.

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  • 1Second Hospital of Lanzhou University, 82 Cuiyingmen, Lanzhou 730030, Gansu Province, China.



To study the antitumor effect of matrine in human hepatoma G2 (HepG2) cells and its molecular mechanism involved in antineoplastic activities.


3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay was used to detect viability of HepG2 cells. The effect of matrine on cell cycle was detected by fl ow cytometry. Annexin-V-FITC/PI double staining assay was used to detect cellular apoptosis. Cellular morphological changes were observed under an inverted phase contrast microscope. Transmission electron microscopy was performed to further examine ultrastructural structure of the cells treated with matrine. Monodansylcadaverine (MDC) staining was used to detect autophagy. Whether autophagy is blocked by 3-methyladenine (3-MA), an autophagy inhibitor, was evaluated. Expression levels of Bax and Beclin 1 in HepG2 cells were measured by real-time quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).


Matrine significantly inhibited the proliferation of HepG2 cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner, and induced G1-phase cell cycle arrest and apoptosis of HepG2 cells in a dose-dependent manner. The total apoptosis rate was 0.14% for HepG2 cells not treated with matrine. In contrast, the apoptosis rate was 28.91%, 34.36% and 38.80%, respectively, for HepG2 cells treated with matrine at the concentration of 0.5, 1.0 and 2.0 mg/mL. The remarkable morphological changes were observed under an inverted phase contrast microscope. Abundant cytoplasmic vacuoles with varying sizes were observed in HepG2 cells treated with matrine. Furthermore, vacuolization in cytoplasm progressively became larger and denser when the concentration of matrine was increased. Electron microscopy demonstrated formation of abundant autophagic vacuoles in HepG2 cells after matrine treatment. When the specific autophagic inhibitor, 3-MA, was applied, the number of autophagic vacuoles greatly decreased. MDC staining showed that the fluorescent density was higher and the number of MDC-labeled particles in HepG2 cells was greater in matrine treatment group than in control group. Fewer autophagic vacuoles were observed in the combined 3-MA and matrine treatment group when 3-MA was added before matrine treatment, indicating that both autophagy and apoptosis are activated when matrine-induced death of hepatoma G2 cells occurs. Real-time quantitative RT-PCR revealed that the expression levels of Bax gene, an apoptosis-related molecule, and Beclin 1 gene which plays a key role in autophagy were higher in matrine treatment group than in control group, indicating that Beclin 1 is involved in matrine-induced autophagy and the pro-apoptotic mechanism of matrine may be related to its upregulation of Bax expression.


Matrine has potent antitumor activities in HepG2 cells and may be used as a novel effective reagent in treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma.

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