Asiatic acid, a triterpene, induces apoptosis and cell cycle arrest through activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways in human breast cancer cells

Ya Ling Hsu, Po Lin Kuo, Liang Tzung Lin, Chun Ching Lin

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173 Citations (Scopus)


This study first investigates the anticancer effect of asiatic acid in two human breast cancer cell lines, MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231. Asiatic acid exhibited effective cell growth inhibition by inducing cancer cells to undergo S-G2/M phase arrest and apoptosis. Blockade of cell cycle was associated with increased p21/WAF1 levels and reduced amounts of cyclinB1, cyclinA, Cdc2, and Cdc25C in a p53-independent manner. Asiatic acid also reduced Cdc2 function by increasing the association of p21/WAF1/Cdc2 complex and the level of inactivated phospho-Cdc2 and phospho-Cdc25C. Asiatic acid treatment triggered the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway indicated by changing Bax/Bcl-2 ratios, cytochrome c release, and caspase-9 activation, but it did not act on Fas/Fas ligand pathways and the activation of caspase-8. We also found that mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2), and p38, but not c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK), are critical mediators in asiatic acid-induced cell growth inhibition. U0126 [1,4-diamino-2,3-dicyano-1,4-bis(2-aminophenylthio)butadiene] or SB203580 [4-(4-fluorophenyl)-2-(4-methylsulfinylphenyl)-5-(4-pyridyl)-1H-imidazole], specific inhibitors of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase and p38 kinase activities, significantly decreased or delayed apoptosis. Asiatic acid was likely to confine the breast cancer cells in the S-G2/M phase mainly through the p38 pathway, because both SB203580 and p38 small interfering RNA (siRNA) inhibition significantly attenuated the accumulation of inactive phospho-Cdc2 and phospho-Cdc25C proteins and the cell numbers of S-G2/M phase. Moreover, U0126 and ERK siRNA inhibition completely suppressed asiatic acid-induced Bcl-2 phosphorylation and Bax up-regulation, and caspase-9 activation. Together, these results imply a critical role for ERK1/2 and p38 but not JNK, p53, and Fas/Fas ligand in asiatic acid-induced S-G2/M arrest and apoptosis of human breast cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-344
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology

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