Original Article | Published:

Capsaicin enhances the antitumor activity of sorafenib in hepatocellular carcinoma cells and mouse xenograft tumors through increased ERK signaling

Acta Pharmacologica Sinica volume 39, pages 438448 (2018) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Sorafenib, a small inhibitor of tyrosine protein kinases, is currently the standard chemotherapy drug for the treatment of advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Although sorafenib improves the survival of HCC patients, its efficacy is not optimal and requires further improvement. Capsaicin, the major active component of chili peppers from the genus Capsicum, is not only the agonist of TRPV1 channel, but also displays antitumor activity and enhances the sensitivity of cancer cells to cytotoxic drugs. In this study, we investigated the antitumor effects of combined sorafenib and capsaicin on HCC cells in vitro and xenograft tumors. Treatment with capsaicin alone dose-dependently inhibited the proliferation of the HCC cell lines PLC/PRF/7, HuH7 and HepG2 with IC50 values of 137, 108 and 140.7 μmol/L, respectively. No obvious expression of TRPV1 channel was detected in the 3 HCC cell lines and TRPV1 channel blockers did not alleviate the cytotoxicity of capsaicin. By contrast, combining capsaicin and sorafenib significantly enhanced the suppression on cell proliferation, achieving a high-level synergistic effect (inhibition rates over 50%) and promoting HCC cell apoptosis. In nude mice with PLC/PRF/5 xenografts, combined administration of capsaicin and sorafenib significantly enhanced the suppression on tumor growth without apparent gross toxicity compared to either agent alone. Mechanistically, capsaicin (10–200 μmol/L) dose-dependently increased the levels of phosphorylated ERK (p-ERK) in PLC/PRF/5 cells, thus leading to enhanced sorafenib sensitivity and a synergistic suppression on the tumor cells. Taken together, our results suggest that capsaicin-increased phosphorylation of ERK contributes to the enhanced antitumor activity of sorafenib, and capsaicin may be useful in improving the efficacy of sorafenib for the treatment of HCC.

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Acknowledgements

This project was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81573410 to KeWei WANG and 81503094 to Jian-jun GAO), the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2016 M600524), and the Qingdao Postdoctoral Applied Research Project (2016072; Qingdao University).

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Author notes

    • Su-shan Zhang
    •  & Yu-hao Ni

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Pharmacology, School of Pharmacy, Qingdao University, Qingdao 266021, China

    • Su-shan Zhang
    • , Yu-hao Ni
    • , Chen-ru Zhao
    • , Zhen Qiao
    • , Hong-xia Yu
    • , Lu-yao Wang
    • , Jin-yan Sun
    • , Chen Du
    • , Jia-hao Zhang
    • , Li-ying Dong
    • , KeWei Wang
    •  & Jian-jun Gao

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Correspondence to KeWei Wang or Jian-jun Gao.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/aps.2017.156