Tumor Biology

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 2461–2471 | Cite as

Bufalin exerts antitumor effects by inducing cell cycle arrest and triggering apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells

  • Meiying Li
  • Xuejun Yu
  • Hui Guo
  • Limei Sun
  • Aijun Wang
  • Qiji Liu
  • Xiuwen Wang
  • Jisheng Li
Research Article


As one of the most aggressive human malignancies, pancreatic cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide and only about 4 % of patients will live 5 years after diagnosis. Eighty to approximately eighty-five percent of patients are diagnosed with an unresectable or metastatic disease, which is correlated with poor prognosis and low survival rate. Therefore, it is tremendously significant to exploit novel chemicals to prevent and treat pancreatic cancer. Previous research and clinical studies have demonstrated that many natural products derived from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) such as camptothecin derivatives and vinca alkaloids could be effective antitumor compounds, hinting that TCM is a promising source for developing new antitumor drugs. In this report, we investigated the effects of bufalin, a primary active ingredient of the traditional Chinese medicine Chan-Su, on pancreatic cancer cell lines PANC-1 and CFPAC-1 and studied the underlying molecular mechanism. We found that exposure to bufalin could suppress the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells time and dose dependently. We used flow cytometry to study the effects of bufalin on apoptosis and cell cycle distribution in PANC-1 and CFPAC-1 cells. The results indicated that bufalin could significantly induce both apoptosis and G2/M cell cycle arrest in pancreatic cancer cells. With western blotting, we found that the expression level of an antiapoptotic protein heat shock protein 27 (Hsp27) and its partner molecule p-Akt was decreased upon the treatment with bufalin. Besides, bufalin activated pro-caspase-3 and pro-caspase-9 and modulated the expression level of Bcl-2 and Bax. These data suggested that bufalin may trigger apoptosis by targeting Hsp27, which could inhibit apoptosis by interfering with key apoptotic proteins. The influence on the level of cylinB1, CDK1, and p21 was also observed after bufalin treatment, and the relationship between Hsp27 and the cell cycle-related proteins mentioned above deserves much more research. In addition, our data showed that bufalin could enhance the growth inhibition effect of gemcitabine in above pancreatic cancer cells. Taken together, bufalin might be worthy of further study for its potential as a therapeutic agent for pancreatic cancer treatment.


Pancreatic cancer Bufalin Antitumor Cell cycle arrest Apoptosis Hsp27 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81201934, 81100645), Specialized Research Fund for the Doctoral Program of Higher Education (20120131120061), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2013 M531612) and Independent Innovation Foundation of Shandong University (2012TS155).

Conflicts of interest



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Copyright information

© International Society of Oncology and BioMarkers (ISOBM) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical Oncology, Cancer Center, Qilu HospitalShandong UniversityJinanChina
  2. 2.Department of OphthalmologyQilu Hospital of Shandong UniversityJinanChina
  3. 3.Department of Medical Genetics, Key Laboratory for Experimental Teratology of the Ministry of EducationShandong University School of MedicineJinanChina

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