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PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21573. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021573. Epub 2011 Jun 24.

Honokiol arrests cell cycle, induces apoptosis, and potentiates the cytotoxic effect of gemcitabine in human pancreatic cancer cells.

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Department of Oncologic Sciences, Mitchell Cancer Institute, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama, United States of America.


Survival rates for patients with pancreatic cancer are extremely poor due to its asymptomatic progression to advanced and metastatic stage for which current therapies remain largely ineffective. Therefore, novel therapeutic agents and treatment approaches are desired to improve the clinical outcome. In this study, we determined the effects of honokiol, a biologically active constituent of oriental medicinal herb Magnolia officinalis/grandiflora, on two pancreatic cancer cell lines, MiaPaCa and Panc1, alone and in combination with the standard chemotherapeutic drug, gemcitabine. Honokiol exerted growth inhibitory effects on both the pancreatic cancer cell lines by causing cell cycle arrest at G₁ phase and induction of apoptosis. At the molecular level, honokiol markedly decreased the expression of cyclins (D1 and E) and cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdk2 and Cdk4), and caused an increase in Cdk inhibitors, p21 and p27. Furthermore, honokiol treatment led to augmentation of Bax/Bcl-2 and Bax/Bcl-xL ratios to favor apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells. These changes were accompanied by enhanced cytoplasmic accumulation of NF-κB with a concomitant decrease in nuclear fraction and reduced transcriptional activity of NF-κB responsive promoter. This was associated with decreased phosphorylation of inhibitor of kappa B alpha (IκB-α) causing its stabilization and thus increased cellular levels. Importantly, honokiol also potentiated the cytotoxic effects of gemcitabine, in part, by restricting the gemcitabine-induced nuclear accumulation of NF-κB in the treated pancreatic cancer cell lines. Altogether, these findings demonstrate, for the first time, the growth inhibitory effects of honokiol in pancreatic cancer and indicate its potential usefulness as a novel natural agent in prevention and therapy.

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