Apoptosis is a particular process that leads to the programmed cell death, and it has been a potentially therapeutic target of cancer. In this study, we evaluated the possible apoptotic effects of glycolic acid on human leukemia cell line (HL-60) in vitro. The morphological changes, cell viability, apoptosis induction, and caspase-3 activity were measured by phase microscopy, flow cytometry, and Western blot analysis. Morphological changes including shrinkage of cells were clearly demonstrated in HL-60 cells treated with increasing concentrations of glycolic acid. Cell viability was significantly affected by glycolic acid treatment in a dose- and time-dependent manner. In comparison to the control group, glycolic acid treatment had a profound effect in the induction of apoptosis by flow cytometric assays. In the cell cycle analysis, glycolic acid caused the increased percentage of cells in G2/M phase and the decreased expression of the cyclin A and cyclin B1, suggesting the induction of G2/M arrest of cell cycle by glycolic acid. Moreover, glycolic acid treatment promoted caspase-9 and -3 activity in a dose-dependent manner, but caspse-8 activity was not affected during the same process. Glycolic acid co-administrated with broad-spectrum caspase inhibitor, z-VAD-fmk, caspase-3 activity was blunted and apoptosis was also markedly blocked in HL-60 cells. In conclusion, glycolic acid-induced apoptosis in HL-60 cells may be through the activation of caspase-3. Future studies focusing on cell signaling and biological significance of glycolic acid-induced apoptosis would lead to exploring the mechanisms of chemotherapeutic potency of glycolic acid in human cancers.
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