Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Cucurbitacin-I (JSI-124) activates the JNK/c-Jun signaling pathway independent of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in B Leukemic Cells

Ganchimeg Ishdorj12, James B Johnston13 and Spencer B Gibson12*

Author Affiliations

1 Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

2 Department of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

3 Department of Internal Medicine, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Cancer 2011, 11:268  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-268

Published: 24 June 2011



Cucurbitacin-I (JSI-124) is potent inhibitor of JAK/STAT3 signaling pathway and has anti-tumor activity in a variety of cancer including B cell leukemia. However, other molecular targets of JSI-124 beyond the JAK/STAT3 pathway are not fully understood.


BJAB, I-83, NALM-6 and primary CLL cells were treated with JSI-124 as indicated. Apoptosis was measured using flow cytometry for accumulation of sub-G1 phase cells (indicator of apoptosis) and Annexin V/PI staining. Cell cycle was analyzed by FACS for DNA content of G1 and G2 phases. Changes in phosphorylation and protein expression of p38, Erk1/2, JNK, c-Jun, and XIAP were detected by Western blot analysis. STAT3 and c-Jun genes were knocked out using siRNA transfection. VEGF expression was determined by mRNA and protein levels by RT-PCR and western blotting. Streptavidin Pull-Down Assay was used to determine c-Jun binding to the AP-1 DNA binding site.


Herein, we show that JSI-124 activates c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and increases both the expression and serine phosphorylation of c-Jun protein in the B leukemic cell lines BJAB, I-83 and NALM-6. JSI-124 also activated MAPK p38 and MAPK Erk1/2 albeit at lower levels than JNK activation. Inhibition of the JNK signaling pathway failed to effect cell cycle arrest or apoptosis induced by JSI-124 but repressed JSI-124 induced c-Jun expression in these leukemia cells. The JNK pathway activation c-Jun leads to transcriptional activation of many genes. Treatment of BJAB, I-83, and NALM-6 cells with JSI-124 lead to an increase of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) at both the mRNA and protein level. Knockdown of c-Jun expression and inhibition of JNK activation significantly blocked JSI-124 induced VEGF expression. Pretreatment with recombinant VEGF reduced JSI-124 induced apoptosis.


Taken together, our data demonstrates that JSI-124 activates the JNK signaling pathway independent of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest, leading to increased VEGF expression.

JSI-124; VEGF; c-Jun; angiogenesis