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Apoptosis. 2011 May;16(5):511-23. doi: 10.1007/s10495-011-0580-6.

Interruption of the MEK/ERK signaling cascade promotes dihydroartemisinin-induced apoptosis in vitro and in vivo.

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Department of Pharmacognosy, College of Pharmacy, 3rd Military Medical University, Gao Tan Yan, Sha Ping Ba, Chongqing, China.


Artemisinin, the active principle of the Chinese medicinal herb Artemisia annua, and its derivatives (i.e. dihydroartemisinin, DHA) were reported to exhibit anti-tumor activity both in vitro and in vivo. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the functional role of Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase (MEK)/Extracellular signal-regulated protein Kinase (ERK) signaling cascade in dihydroartemisinin (DHA)-induced apoptosis in human leukemia cells in vitro and anti-leukemic activity in vivo. Human leukemia cells were treated with DHA in dose- and time-dependent manners, after which apoptosis, caspase activation, Mcl-1 expression, and cell signaling pathways were evaluated. Parallel studies were performed in AML and ALL primary human leukemia cells. In vivo anti-leukemic activity mediated by DHA was also investigated using U937 xenograft mouse model. Exposure of DHA resulted in a pronounced increase in apoptosis in both transformed and primary human leukemia cells but not in normal peripheral blood mononuclear cells. DHA-induced apoptosis was accompanied by caspase activation, cytochrome c release, Mcl-1 down-regulation, as well as MEK/ERK inactivation. Pretreatment with MEK inhibitor PD98059, which potentiated DHA-mediated MEK and ERK inactivation, intensified DHA-mediated apoptosis. Conversely, enforced expression of a constitutively active MEK1 attenuated DHA-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, DHA-mediated inhibition of tumor growth of mouse U937 xenograft was associated with induction of apoptosis and inactivation of ERK. The findings in the present study showed that DHA-induced apoptosis in human leukemia cells in vitro and exhibited an anti-leukemic activity in vivo through a process that involves MEK/ERK inactivation, Mcl-1 down-regulation, culminating in cytochrome c release and caspase activation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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