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Open Access Research article

Modulation of apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2 cells) by a standardized herbal decoction of Nigella sativa seeds, Hemidesmus indicus roots and Smilax glabra rhizomes with anti- hepatocarcinogenic effects

Sameera R Samarakoon1*, Ira Thabrew1, Prasanna B Galhena2 and Kamani H Tennekoon1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Colombo, 90, Cumarathunga Munidasa Mawatha, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka

2 Department of Biochemistry and Clinical Chemistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Thalagolla Road, Ragama, Sri Lanka

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12:25  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-25

Published: 29 March 2012

Abstract

Background

A standardized poly-herbal decoction of Nigella sativa seeds, Hemidesmus indicus roots and Smilax glabra rhizomes used traditionally in Sri Lanka for cancer therapy has been demonstrated previously, to have anti-hepatocarcinogenic potential. Cytotoxicity, antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory activity, and up regulation of p53 and p21 activities are considered to be some of the possible mechanisms through which the above decoction may mediate its anti-hepatocarcinogenic action. The main aim of the present study was to determine whether apoptosis is also a major mechanism by which the decoction mediates its anti-hepatocarcinogenic action.

Methods

Evaluation of apoptosis in HepG2 cells was carried out by (a) microscopic observations of cell morphology, (b) DNA fragmentation analysis, (c) activities of caspase 3 and 9, as well as by (d) analysis of the expression of pro-apoptotic (Bax) and anti-apoptotic (Bcl-2) proteins associated with cell death.

Results

The results demonstrated that in HepG2 cells, the decoction can induce (a) DNA fragmentation and (b) characteristic morphological changes associated with apoptosis (nuclear condensation, membrane blebbing, nuclear fragmentation and apoptotic bodies). The decoction could also, in a time and dose dependent manner, up regulate the expression of the pro-apoptotic gene Bax and down regulate expression of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 gene (as evident from RT-PCR analysis, immunohistochemistry and western blotting). Further, the decoction significantly (p < .001) enhanced the activities of caspase-3 and caspase-9 in a time and dose dependent manner.

Conclusions

Overall findings provide confirmatory evidence to demonstrate that the decoction may mediate its reported anti-hepatocarcinogenic effect, at least in part, through modulation of apoptosis.