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Targeted constitutive activation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells by cucurbitacin B

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To determine the effect of cucurbitacin B on human hepatocellular carcinoma cell growth and apoptosis, and to explore the potential mechanisms.


In vitro viability of human hepatocellular carcinoma cell line (HepG2) was investigated using a 3-(4, 5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2, 5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay. Morphologic changes of cells were evaluated through light microscopy. Cell cycle distribution was evaluated with flow cytometry following PI staining. Apoptosis was evaluated respectively with flow cytometry and fluorescent microscopy following Annexin V-FITC/PI and Hoechst 33258 staining. Western blot assays were performed to determine the expression of pSTAT3 and Bcl-2. Finally, in vivo effect of cucurbitacin B on the growth of HepG2 cells was determined in nude mice.


The MTT assay showed that cucurbitacin B inhibited HepG2 cell viability in a dose and time-dependent manner. Cucurbitacin B treatment resulted in accumulation of cells at the S phase of cell cycle as well as apoptosis. Marked morphological changes, including condensation of chromatin, nuclear fragmentation and apoptotic bodies were clearly shown on Hoechst 33258 staining. Western blot showed that cucurbitacin B inhibited STAT3 phosphorylation and down-regulated the expression of Bcl-2. Growth of HepG2 tumor in nude mice was also inhibited by cucurbitacin B.


Our results suggest that cucurbitacin B may have a therapeutic value in suppressing the growth of human hepatocellular carcinoma. The mechanism may be attributable to the suppression of STAT3 phosphorylation.

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This work has been sponsored by a grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 60574040). We also thank Dr. Jian Zhang of Shandong University for the provision of STAT3 antibody.

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Correspondence to Meixia Zhang or Yihui Deng.

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Zhang, M., Zhang, H., Sun, C. et al. Targeted constitutive activation of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells by cucurbitacin B. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol 63, 635–642 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00280-008-0780-0

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  • Cucurbitacin B
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • HepG2
  • STAT3
  • Apoptosis