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Invest New Drugs. 2013 Jun;31(3):587-98. doi: 10.1007/s10637-012-9902-y. Epub 2012 Nov 20.

Gambogic acid is cytotoxic to cancer cells through inhibition of the ubiquitin-proteasome system.

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Division of Pharmacognosy, Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Biomedical Center, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.


Gambogic acid (GA), displays cytotoxicity towards a wide variety of tumor cells and has been shown to affect many important cell-signaling pathways. In the present work, we investigated the mechanism of action of GA by analysis of drug-induced changes in gene expression profiles and identified GA and the derivative dihydro GA as possible inhibitors of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS). Both GA and dihydro GA inhibited proteasome function in cells resulting in the accumulation of polyubiquitin complexes. In vitro experiments showed that both GA and dihydro GA inhibited 20S chymotrypsin activity and the inhibitory effects of GA and dihydro GA on proteasome function corresponded with apoptosis induction and cell death. In conclusion, our results show that GA and dihydro GA exert their cytotoxic activity through inhibition of the UPS, specifically by acting as inhibitors of the chymotrypsin activity of the 20S proteasome.

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