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Cell Death Dis. 2013 Jun 27;4:e697. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2013.219.

Hypericin-photodynamic therapy leads to interleukin-6 secretion by HepG2 cells and their apoptosis via recruitment of BH3 interacting-domain death agonist and caspases.

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  • 1Tropical Infectious Disease Research and Education Center (TIDREC), Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has emerged as a capable therapeutic modality for the treatment of cancer. PDT is a targeted cancer therapy that reportedly leads to tumor cell apoptosis and/or necrosis by facilitating the secretion of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines and expression of multiple apoptotic mediators in the tumor microenvironment. In addition, PDT also triggers oxidative stress that directs tumor cell killing and activation of inflammatory responses. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the role of PDT in facilitating tumor cell apoptosis remain ambiguous. Here, we investigated the ability of PDT in association with hypericin (HY) to induce tumor cell apoptosis by facilitating the induction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secretion of Th1/Th2/Th17 cytokines in human hepatocellular liver carcinoma cell line (HepG2) cells. To discover if any apoptotic mediators were implicated in the enhancement of cell death of HY-PDT-treated tumor cells, selected gene profiling in response to HY-PDT treatment was implemented. Experimental results showed that interleukin (IL)-6 was significantly increased in all HY-PDT-treated cells, especially in 1 μg/ml HY-PDT, resulting in cell death. In addition, quantitative real-time PCR analysis revealed that the expression of apoptotic genes, such as BH3-interacting-domain death agonist (BID), cytochrome complex (CYT-C) and caspases (CASP3, 6, 7, 8 and 9) was remarkably higher in HY-PDT-treated HepG2 cells than the untreated HepG2 cells, entailing that tumor destruction of immune-mediated cell death occurs only in PDT-treated tumor cells. Hence, we showed that HY-PDT treatment induces apoptosis in HepG2 cells by facilitating cytotoxic ROS, and potentially recruits IL-6 and apoptosis mediators, providing additional hints for the existence of alternative mechanisms of anti-tumor immunity in hepatocellular carcinoma, which contribute to long-term suppression of tumor growth following PDT.

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