Glycolysis inhibition via mTOR suppression is a key step in cardamonin-induced autophagy in SKOV3 cells
Autophagy occurs in cells that undergoing nutrient deprivation. Glycolysis rapidly supplies energy for the proliferation of cancer cells. Cardamonin inhibits proliferation and enhances autophagy by mTORC1 suppression in ovarian cancer cells. Here, we investigate the relationship between cardamonin-triggered autophagy and glycolysis inhibition via mTORC1 suppression.
Treated with indicated compounds, ATP content and the activity of hexokinase (HK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) were analyzed by the assay kits. Autophagy was detected by monodansylcadaverin (MDC) staining. The relationship between cardamonin-triggered autophagy and glycolysis inhibition via mTORC1 suppression was analyzed by Western blot.
We found that cardamonin inhibited the lactate secretion, ATP production, and the activity of HK and LDH. The results demonstrated that cardamonin enhanced autophagy in SKOV3 cells, as indicated by acidic compartments accumulation, microtubule-associated protein 1 Light Chain 3-II (LC3-II) and lysosome associated membrane protein 1 up-regulation. Our results showed that the activation of mTORC1 signaling and the expression HK2 were reduced by cardamonin; whereas the phosphorylation of AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) was increased. We also confirmed that the AMPK inhibitor, Compound C, reversed cardamonin-induced upregulation of LC3-II.
These results suggest that cardamonin-induced autophagy is associated with inhibition on glycolysis by down-regulating the activity of mTORC1 in ovarian cancer cells.
KeywordsAMPK Autophagy Cardamonin Glycolysis mTOR
AMP-activated protein kinase
Lysosome associated membrane protein 1
Microtubule-associated protein 1 Light Chain 3-II
Mammalian target of rapamycin
Mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1
Ribosome S6 kinase 1
Autophagy is a catabolic membrane-trafficking process that mediates the degradation of intracellular material within lysosomes. The cytoplasmic contents are degraded into free nucleotides, amino acids and fatty acids, which are reused by the cell to maintain macromolecular synthesis and to fuel energy production . Autophagy serves as either tumor suppressor or protector in different conditions. It degrades damaged mitochondria and other cell organelles to maintain cell survival. However, excessive autophagy leads to progressive consumption of cellular components, and ultimately induces cell death [2, 3]. Increasing evidence indicates that induction of autophagy inhibits tumorigenesis and cancer progression, especially in certain ovarian cancers which exhibits lack of autophagy .
Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism of adaptation to microenvironmental conditions, such as metabolism inhibition. It ensures the survival and proliferation of cancer cells under hypoxia and energy starvation . Several signaling pathways capacitate cancer cells to acquire and metabolize nutrients in a manner conducive to proliferation rather than efficient ATP production. Cancer cells produce energy via the conversion of glucose into lactate, despite the presence of oxygen, a process known as aerobic glycolysis. It generates the precursors needed for the synthesis of lipids and nucleotides . Therefore, glycolysis is another evolutionarily mechanism which provides materials for growth and proliferation of cancer cells. Moreover, production of lactic acid can stimulate the invasion and metastasis of cancer cells . Here, we postulate that glycolysis inhibition results in energy deprivation and further triggers autophagy, which ultimately leads to autophagic cell death.
The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is a key regulator of protein synthesis and cell proliferation. It considered to be an appealing therapeutic target. Makinoshima et al. indicates that mTORC1 regulates glucose uptake, glycolysis and lipid biosynthesis in cancer cells . And mTOR inhibition contributes to the initiation of autophagy even in the presence of sufficient nutrients and growth hormones. Inhibition on the mTOR/S6K1 pathway triggered caspase-dependent and -independent cell death in lymphoma cells by inhibition of glycolysis and induction of autophagy [9, 10].
Cardamonin (2′, 4′-dihydroxy-6′-methoxy-chalcone) is the main chalcone found in large amounts of cardamom spice (fruits of Amomum subulatum Roxb.) and other medicinal plants of Zingiberaceae family, such as Alpinia katsumadae Hayata . Cardamonin appears to have anti-inflammatory, antineoplastic, vasorelaxant and anti-infectious properties which benefit for the potential health applications . Cardamonin inhibits the proliferation and metastasis of various cancer cells [13, 14, 15]. In our previous studies, we demonstrate that the antitumor effect of cardamonin dependents on mTOR inhibition [16, 17]. Recently, we find that the autophagy induction is account for the antiproliferative activity of cardamonin . Also, cardamonin plays an important role in glucose metabolism. It eliminates the negative feedback of mTOR/S6K1 on the insulin-signaling pathway and increases glucose metabolism in insulin resistant vascular smooth muscular cells [14, 17, 19].
In the present study, we aim to explore the mechanism of cardamonin on autophagy. The relationship between cardamonin-triggered autophagy and glycolysis inhibition via mTORC1 suppression is investigated in SKOV3 cells. It will provide a promising therapeutic agent for ovarian cancer.
Cells and reagents
Human ovarian cancer SKOV3 cells were obtained from Wuhan boster biological engineering co., LTD (Wuhan, China). Cardamonin, rapamycin, 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) and Compound C (an AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) inhibitor) were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich Chemical Co (St. Louis, MO, USA). The assay kits of ATP, lactate, hexokinase (HK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) were purchased from Nanjing Jiancheng Bioengineering Institute (Nanjing, China). The BCA protein assay kit and antibodies for mTOR, p-mTOR (Ser2448), S6K1, p-S6K1 (Thr389), AMPK, p-AMPK (Ser172), LC3, LAMP1, HK2 and actin were obtained from Cell Signaling Technology (Beverly, MA, USA).
Human ovarian cancer SKOV3 cells were grown at 37 °C in McCoy’s 5A supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (Grand Island, NY, USA), 100 U·mL− 1 penicillin and 100 μg·mL− 1 streptomycin in a humidified 5% CO2 atmosphere.
Measurement of lactate
Cells were implanted at a density of 2 × 105 cells/well in 6 well plates and cultured for 24 h, then the cells were treated with cardamonin (5, 10, 20 μM), rapamycin (0.1 μM), and 2-DG (10 mM) for another 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 h, respectively. The media was collected and centrifugated (8000 g, 10 min) for lactate assay according to the manufacturer’s protocol of Lactate Assay Kits, respectively. The content of lactate was normalized to cell numbers. The inhibitory effect of cardamonin on lactate secretion at 24 h is similar to 12 h in some groups. Compared with 12 and 24 h, the inhibitory effect of cardamonin is significantly increased at 36, 48 and 60 h, respectively. Therefore, we chose the 24 h for the statistical analysis.
We have investigated the antiproliferation effect of cardamonin in various cancer cells. It demonstrated that the efficiency-concentration ranged from 5 μM to 30 μM [13, 15, 16]. In the present study, the inhibitory effect of cardamonin (5, 10 and 20 μM) on the lactate secretion was measured in SKOV3 cells. In order to investigate the further mechanism of cardamonin on glycolysis, we indicated 5, 20 μM or 20 μM of cardamonin for the following experiments.
Determination of content of ATP and activity of HK and LDH
Detection of autophagosome
Cells were cultured in 6-well plates (0.3 × 106/well) for 24 h and then treated with cardamonin (5, 20 μM), rapamycin (0.1 μM), and 2-DG (10 mM) for another 48 h. Cells were washed with ice cold PBS twice and then incubated with monodansylcadaverin (MDC, 0.05 mM) at room temperature in darkness for 30 min. Then the cells were washed twice with PBS and observed by fluorescence microscope. The fluorescent intensity of MDC stain was calculated by the ImageJ software.
Detection of protein expression
Cells were cultured in 100 mm dishes (2.2 × 106/dish). Treated with drugs for 48 h, cells were collected and washed twice with cold PBS, and then lysed in RIPA and centrifuged to collect the supernatant. The protein concentration was measured by a BCA assay kit. 40–50 μg protein was separated on 8–12% SDS-PAGE and transferred onto a polyvinylidene fluoride membrane (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA, USA). After blocking the non-specific site with bovine serum albumin, the membrane was incubated with primary antibody (1,1000 or 1800) at 4 °C overnight, and then incubated for 60 min with a secondary antibody (anti-rabbit IgG, horseradish peroxidase-linked antibody; #7074; Cell Signaling Technologies, Beverly, MA, USA; dilution, 1:2000) at room temperature, respectively. Immunoreactive proteins were detected by HRP-ECL chemiluminescence reagents.
All data were expressed as mean ± SD. Differences between groups were evaluated by the Student’s t test or one way ANOVA followed by Dunnett’s multiple comparison test. p < 0.05 was considered as statistically significant.
Cardamonin suppressed the glycolysis
Cardamonin inhibited ATP production and the activity of HK and LDH
ATP (μmoL/g prot)
HK (U/g prot)
LDH (U/g prot)
94.05 ± 0.94
43.63 ± 3.82
307.28 ± 6.71
Cardamonin (5 μM)
87.69 ± 0.79**
35.58 ± 3.34**
292.94 ± 5.56**
Cardamonin (10 μM)
50.98 ± 1.67**
33.95 ± 3.04**
276.62 ± 4.04**
Cardamonin (20 μM)
29.87 ± 1.31**
27.46 ± 3.60**
225.58 ± 7.50**
Rapamycin (0.1 μM)
56.07 ± 1.47**
34.14 ± 4.90**
286.46 ± 8.68**
2-DG (10 mM)
24.33 ± 1.90**
43.72 ± 3.12
302.43 ± 4.20
Cardamonin induced cell autophagy
Cardamonin inhibited the expressions of p-S6K1, p-mTOR, HK2 and increased p-AMPK
The activity of AMPK was associated with autophagy induction by cardamonin
Autophagy attempts to maintain/restore metabolic homeostasis through digesting the damaged or aged organelles. Recently, Muilenburg et al. have shown that autophagy is a potential strategy for ovarian cancer therapy . Dasatinib can induce cell death through autophagy in ovarian cancer . In addition, increased expression of autophagy protein PEA-15prolonged the life of ovarian cancer patients . Therefore, autophagy provides new ideas for the treatment of ovarian cancer.
LC3 is essential for the elongation of autophagosome membrane. LC3-I conjugates phosphatidylethanolamine to form LC3-II, and LC3-II presents on the outer and inner surfaces of the autophagosome. LAMP1 is a structural protein of the lysosome membrane, which is also considered as an indicator for autophagy . In our present study, the expression of LC3-II and LAMP1 was increased by cardamonin, as well as the acidic autophagy vacuoles stained by MDC. These effects of cardamonin were consistent with that of other similar flavonoids, such as genistein and baicalein [25, 26]. Also, the glycolysis inhibitor 2-DG and mTOR inhibitor rapamycin increased autophagy in SKOV3 cells in the present study. The mechanism of rapamycin and 2-DG on autophagy induction has been demonstrated in other studies. Rapamycin specifically inhibits mTORC1 while that of 2-DG is related to glycometabolism inhibition [27, 28].
When nutrients are deprived, autophagy is enabled by impaired cellular ATP production. As the key point of energy metabolism, glycometabolism plays a unique role in maintaining ovarian cancer cell growth [29, 30, 31]. HK is involved in the glycolysis pathway in cancer cells . HK catalyzes the first step of glycolysis. It phosphorylates glucose to glucose-6-phosphate. HK2 is a predominant isoform of HK, which is upregulated in ovarian cancer . It demonstrated that 20(S)-Rg3 inhibited the Warburg effect by targeting STAT3/HK2 pathway in ovarian cancer cells . LDH sustains the glycolysis through catalyzing the regeneration of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide from reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide in cancer cells . It demonstrates that various flavonoids, including luteolin, wogonin, etc. can inhibit glycolysis [36, 37]. In our study, cardamonin inhibited the activity of HK2 and LDH. It contributes to the glycolysis inhibitory effect of cardamonin. The results were similar with 2-DG, a glucose analog that competitively phosphorylated by HK with glucose and further inhibits glycolysis [28, 38]. It indicated that cardamonin inhibits glycolysis induced energy production. Interestingly, we found that both cardamonin and 2-DG decreased the relative protein expression of HK2. However, only cardamonin but not 2-DG inhibited the activity of HK. The underling mechanism needs to be further illustrated.
mTOR regulates cell growth and metabolism. There exists two different mTOR complexes called mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) and mTORC2 . The activity of glycolytic enzyme is elevated in an mTORC1-dependent manner in the TSC-deficient cells. Activated mTOR stimulates HIF-1α and coordinately induces the expression of several enzymes for glucose metabolism, including glucose transporters, HK and LDH [32, 40]. It demonstrates that mTORC1 inactivation by rapamycin is critical for glucose metabolism [41, 42]. Rapamycin binds to the FK506-binding protein of 12 kDa (FKBP12) and inhibits the activity of mTORC1 . Our previous study showed that cardamonin had a similar effect with rapamycin on mTOR and its downstream substrates, but this effect was not dependent on FKBP12 . Here, we also observed that cardamonin decreased the phosphorylation of mTOR and S6K1. Therefore, it suggested that the inhibition of glycolysis by cardamonin was regulated by mTORC1 suppression.
AMPK plays an important role in adaptive responses to reduced energy production. In response to nutrition deficiency, accumulation of AMP binding to AMPKγ subunit leads to activation of AMPK [44, 45]. In our present result, cardamonin activated AMPK, which was similar with 2-DG. In order to clarify the activation of AMPK partly results in autophagy induction, we added the Compound C in the experiment. Cardamonin-induced autophagy was reduced by Compound C. All these findings suggested that autophagy stimulation by cardamonin was involved in glycolysis inhibition mediated AMPK activation.
Cardamonin exhibits antiproliferation activity in various cancer cells. This study also demonstrates that cardamonin-induced autophagy is associated with glycolysis inhibition via mTOR inhibition in SKOV3 cells. Our increased understanding about the mechanism of antitumor effect of cardamonin provides important evidences for further development of cardamonin as a novel therapeutic drug for ovarian cancer.
This work was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of Fujian Province [grant numbers 2016 J01492 and 2017 J01234], Innovative Medical Foundation and Youth Foundation of Fujian Provincial Health and Family Planning Commission [grant number 2016-CX-13 and 2017-1-18, 2017-1-19], China.
Availability of data and materials
The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
DS conceived and designed the experiments; DZ performed the experiments; YZ and JZ analyzed the data; HC participated in the detection of protein expression. PN, DZ and DS drafted the manuscript. All authors have been involved in critically revising the manuscript and have approved the final version.
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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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