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Open Access Research article

Enhancement of gefitinib-induced growth inhibition by Marsdenia tenacissima extract in non-small cell lung cancer cells expressing wild or mutant EGFR

Shu-Yan Han1, Hui-Rong Ding2, Wei Zhao3, Fei Teng1 and Ping-Ping Li1*

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Carcinogenesis and Translational Research (Ministry of Education), Department of Integration of Chinese and Western Medicine, Peking University Cancer Hospital & Institute, No. 52 Fucheng Road, 100142 Haidian District, Beijing, P.R. China

2 Central Laboratory of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Haidian District, P.R. China

3 Department of Cell Biology, Peking University Cancer Hospital & Institute, 100142 Haidian District, Beijing, P.R. China

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014, 14:165  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-165

Published: 22 May 2014

Abstract

Background

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) expressed high levels of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Gefitinib (Iressa) has demonstrated clinical efficacy in NSCLC patients harboring EGFR mutations or refractory to chemotherapy. However, most of NSCLC patients are with wild type EGFR, and showed limited response to gefitinib. Therefore, to develop new effective therapeutic interventions for NSCLC is still required. Our previous study showed Marsdenia tenacissima extract (MTE) restored gefitinib efficacy in the resistant NSCLC cells, but whether MTE acts in the gefitinib-sensitive NSCLC cells is the same as it in the resistant one is unknown.

Methods

Dose response curves for gefitinib and MTE were generated for two sensitive NSCLC cell lines with mutant or wild type EGFR status. Three different sequential combinations of MTE and gefitinib on cell growth were evaluated using IC50 and Combination Index approaches. The flow cytometric method was used to detect cell apoptosis and cell cycle profile. The impact of MTE combined with gefitinib on cell molecular network response was studied by Western blotting.

Results

Unlike in the resistant NSCLC cells, our results revealed that low cytotoxic dose of MTE (8 mg/ml) combined gefitinib with three different schedules synergistically or additively enhanced the growth inhibition of gefitinib. Among which, MTE → MTE + gefitinib treatment was the most effective one. MTE markedly prompted cell cycle arrest and apoptosis caused by gefitinib both in EGFR mutant (HCC827) and wild type of NSCLC cells (H292). The Western blotting results showed that MTE → MTE + gefitinib treatment further enhanced the suppression of gefitinib on cell growth and apoptosis pathway such as ERK1/2 and PI3K/Akt/mTOR. This combination also blocked the activation of EGFR and c-Met which have cross-talk with each other. Unlike in gefitinib-resistant NSCLC cells, MTE alone also demonstrated certain unexpected modulation on EGFR related cell signal pathways in the sensitive cells.

Conclusion

Our results suggest that MTE is a promising herbal medicine to improve gefitinib efficacy in NSCLC regardless of EGFR status. However, why MTE acted differently between gefitinib-sensitive and -resistant NSCLC cells needs a further research.

Keywords:
Marsdenia tenacissima extract (MTE); Gefitinib; Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); Combination; EGFR related pathway