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Int J Oncol. 2007 Oct;31(4):761-8.

Cepharanthin-enhanced radiosensitivity through the inhibition of radiation-induced nuclear factor-kappaB activity in human oral squamous cell carcinoma cells.

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  • 1Department of Therapeutic Regulation for Oral Tumors, Institute of Health BioSciences, The University of Tokushima Graduate School of Dentistry, Tokushima city, Tokushima 770-8504, Japan.


We have already demonstrated that human head and neck cancer cells have significantly enhanced levels of transcription factor nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB activity compared to their normal counterparts, suggesting that NF-kappaB plays an important role in the development of head and neck cancer. However, it has been reported that chemotherapeutic agents and radiation activate NF-kappaB activity in cancer cells, thus making the cells radioresistant and chemoresistant. In addition, we have shown that the suppression of NF-kappaB activity enhanced apoptosis in oral squamous cell carcinoma cells. In this study, we examined whether cepharanthin-induced inhibition of NF-kappaB activity enhances radiosensitivity in human oral carcinoma cells. Cepharanthin is a biscoclaurine alkaloid extracted from the roots of Stephania cepharantha hayata, and is widely used in Japan for the treatment of patients with leucopenia, nasal allergy, and venomous snakebites. gamma-irradiation (IR) induces NF-kappaB activity in oral carcinoma cells through the activation of upstream molecules, including Akt and IkappaB kinase. However, a luciferase assay revealed that cepharanthin suppresses IR-induced NF-kappaB activity in oral squamous cell carcinoma cells, thereby enhancing the radio-sensitivity. Western blot analysis showed an enhanced cleavage of poly-(ADP-ribose) polymerase protein in carcinoma cells by both cepharanthin treatment and IR exposure compared to IR or cepharanthin alone. In an in vivo study, B88 cells were s.c. inoculated into the backs of nude mice. Tumor-bearing nude mice received either cepharanthin, IR alone, or a combination of cepharanthin and IR. The combined treatment suppressed tumor growth significantly more than either cepharanthin or IR alone. Cepharanthin inhibited the production of IR-induced IL-6 and IL-8, which are downstream targets of NF-kappaB. In quantitative real-time RT-PCR, IR also induced the expression of anti-apoptotic proteins [cellular inhibitor of apoptosis protein (cIAP)-1 and -2] in carcinoma cells. Treatment of cancer cells with cepharanthin combined with exposure to IR decreased cIAP-1 and -2 mRNA expression. These findings suggested that the combination of radiotherapy and cepharanthin could enhance radiosensitivity in the treatment of human oral cancer.

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