Celastrol Induces Apoptosis in Gefitinib-Resistant Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Cells via Caspases-Dependent Pathways and Hsp90 Client Protein Degradation

EGFR and KRAS mutations are the two most common driver mutations in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Molecular target-based therapy using small moleculessuch as gefitinib has been used for inhibiting EGFR with good initial responses, however, drug resistance is common when using a mono-targeting strategy.In recently years, they aimed to elucidate the anticancer effects of allkindsofChinese traditional medicine on NSCLC cell lines with KRAS or EGFR mutations.


Celastrol, a triterpene extracted from the Chinese herb Tripterygium wilfordii, has been shown to have multiple bioactivities. Although among these activities, its anticancer effects have attracted the most attention, the effect of celastrol on gefitinib-resistant non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells is not clearly known.In this study, we examined the potency of celastrol in three different NSCLC cell lines. We explored its treatment mechanism in two gefitinib-resistant NSCLC cell lines (H1650 and H1975). The data demonstrated that celastrol exerted its apoptotic effect in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Also, the mitochondria membrane potential was gradually lost and the ratio of Bax/Bcl-2 increased after the treatment of celastrol, both of which are indicators of mitochondria membrane integrity. Although the caspases were activated, the treatment with pan-caspase inhibitor could partially inhibit the level of apoptosis. Moreover, the protein level of Hsp90 client proteins, EGFR and AKT, was measured. Interestingly, both client proteins were remarkably down-regulated after the treatment of celastrol.

Taken together,this founding discovered indicated that celastrol may be developed as a promising agent for treating gefitinib-resistant NSCLCs by inducing apoptosis through caspase-dependent pathways and Hsp90 client protein degradation.

This paper was publicated by the journal “molecules”, 21 March 2014. The newly released Impact Factor for Frontiers in Pharmacology is 3.09(Thomson Reuters, 2018).