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Renal cancer-selective Englerin A induces multiple mechanisms of cell death and autophagy

Richard T Williams1, Alice L Yu123, Mitchell B Diccianni1, Emmanuel A Theodorakis4 and Ayse Batova4*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA

2 The Genomics Research Center, Academia Sinica, University of California, Taipei, Taiwan

3 Stem Cell & Translational Cancer Research Center, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Linkou, Taoyuan, Taiwan

4 Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA

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Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research 2013, 32:57  doi:10.1186/1756-9966-32-57

Published: 20 August 2013


Renal cell carcinoma (RCC), the most common malignancy of the kidney, is refractory to standard therapy and has an incidence that continues to rise. Screening of plant extracts in search of new agents to treat RCC resulted in the discovery of englerin A (EA), a natural product exhibiting potent selective cytotoxicity against renal cancer cells. Despite the establishment of synthetic routes to the synthesis of EA, very little is known about its mechanism of action. The results of the current study demonstrate for the first time that EA induces apoptosis in A498 renal cancer cells in addition to necrosis. The induction of apoptosis by EA required at least 24 h and was caspase independent. In addition, EA induced increased levels of autophagic vesicles in A498 cells which could be inhibited by nonessential amino acids (NEAA), known inhibitors of autophagy. Interestingly, inhibition of autophagy by NEAA did not diminish cell death suggesting that autophagy is not a cell death mechanism and likely represents a cell survival mechanism which ultimately fails. Apart from cell death, our results demonstrated that cells treated with EA accumulated in the G2 phase of the cell cycle indicating a block in G2/M transition. Moreover, our results determined that EA inhibited the activation of both AKT and ERK, kinases which are activated in cancer and implicated in unrestricted cell proliferation and induction of autophagy. The phosphorylation status of the cellular energy sensor, AMPK, appeared unaffected by EA. The high renal cancer selectivity of EA combined with its ability to induce multiple mechanisms of cell death while inhibiting pathways driving cell proliferation, suggest that EA is a highly unique agent with great potential as a therapeutic lead for the treatment of RCC.

Englerin A; Apoptosis; Autophagy; Necrosis; Renal cell carcinoma