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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1999 Jun;289(3):1306-12.

Betulinic acid-induced apoptosis in glioma cells: A sequential requirement for new protein synthesis, formation of reactive oxygen species, and caspase processing.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Neuro-Oncology, Department of Neurology, University of Tübingen, School of Medicine, Tübingen, Germany.


Betulinic acid (BA), a pentacyclic triterpene, is an experimental cytotoxic agent for malignant melanoma. Here, we show that BA triggers apoptosis in five human glioma cell lines. BA-induced apoptosis requires new protein, but not RNA, synthesis, is independent of p53, and results in p21 protein accumulation in the absence of a cell cycle arrest. BA-induced apoptosis involves the activation of caspases that cleave poly(ADP ribose)polymerase. Interactions of death ligand/receptor pairs of the CD95/CD95 ligand family do not mediate BA-induced caspase activation. BA enhances the levels of BAX and BCL-2 proteins but does not alter the levels of BCL-xS or BCL-xL. Ectopic expression of BCL-2 prevents BA-induced caspase activation, DNA fragmentation, and cell death. Furthermore, BA induces the formation of reactive oxygen species that are essential for BA-triggered cell death. The generation of reactive oxygen species is blocked by BCL-2 and requires new protein synthesis but is unaffected by caspase inhibitors, suggesting that BA toxicity sequentially involves new protein synthesis, formation of reactive oxygen species, and activation of crm-A-insensitive caspases.

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