, Volume 13, Issue 12, pp 1450-1464
Date: 06 Nov 2008

Withaferin A induces apoptosis by activating p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling cascade in leukemic cells of lymphoid and myeloid origin through mitochondrial death cascade

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Withaferin A (WA) is present abundantly in Withania somnifera, a well-known Indian medicinal plant. Here we demonstrate how WA exhibits a strong growth-inhibitory effect on several human leukemic cell lines and on primary cells from patients with lymphoblastic and myeloid leukemia in a dose-dependent manner, showing no toxicity on normal human lymphocytes and primitive hematopoietic progenitor cells. WA-mediated decrease in cell viability was observed through apoptosis as demonstrated by externalization of phosphatidylserine, a time-dependent increase in Bax/Bcl-2 ratio; loss of mitochondrial transmembrane potential, cytochrome c release, caspases 9 and 3 activation; and accumulation of cells in sub-G0 region based on DNA fragmentation. A search for the downstream pathway further reveals that WA-induced apoptosis was mediated by an increase in phosphorylated p38MAPK expression, which further activated downstream signaling by phosphorylating ATF-2 and HSP27 in leukemic cells. The RNA interference of p38MAPK protected these cells from WA-induced apoptosis. The RNAi knockdown of p38MAPK inhibited active phosphorylation of p38MAPK, Bax expression, activation of caspase 3 and increase in Annexin V positivity. Altogether, these findings suggest that p38MAPK in leukemic cells promotes WA-induced apoptosis. WA caused increased levels of Bax in response to MAPK signaling, which resulted in the initiation of mitochondrial death cascade, and therefore it holds promise as a new, alternative, inexpensive chemotherapeutic agent for the treatment of patients with leukemia of both lymphoid and myeloid origin.