J Cancer 2021; 12(21):6576-6587. doi:10.7150/jca.62779

Research Paper

Bai-He-Gu-Jin-Tang formula suppresses lung cancer via AKT/GSK3β/β-catenin and induces autophagy via the AMPK/mTORC1/ULK1 signaling pathway

Quhui Wu1, Da Li1, Taoli Sun3, Jian Liu2, Huiping Ou1, Lei Zheng1, Xuyang Hou2, Wenqun Li2✉, Fuyuan Fan1✉

1. Department of Respiratory Medicine, The First Affiliated Hospital of Hunan University of Chinese Medicine, Changsha, China.
2. Department of Pharmacy, The Second Xiangya Hospital, Central South University, Changsha, 410011, China.
3. Medical School, Hunan University of Chinese Medicine, Changsha, 410208, P. R. China.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). See http://ivyspring.com/terms for full terms and conditions.
Wu Q, Li D, Sun T, Liu J, Ou H, Zheng L, Hou X, Li W, Fan F. Bai-He-Gu-Jin-Tang formula suppresses lung cancer via AKT/GSK3β/β-catenin and induces autophagy via the AMPK/mTORC1/ULK1 signaling pathway. J Cancer 2021; 12(21):6576-6587. doi:10.7150/jca.62779. Available from https://www.jcancer.org/v12p6576.htm

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Aims: Bai-He-Gu-Jin-Tang (BHGJT) is a classic Chinese formula used to treat lung cancer, while the underlying molecular mechanism remains obscure. The aim of the study was to investigate the molecular mechanism of BHGJT on lung cancer and demonstrate the potential for synergistic treatment combining BHGJT with conventional therapy.

Methods: Cell viability assay, colony formation assay and EdU assay were used to determine the in vitro effects of BHGJT, and a subcutaneous xenograft model was used to evaluate the in vivo effect. Cell cycle analysis, apoptosis rate analysis, immunohistochemical and immunofluorescent staining, Western blot assays and network pharmacology-based analysis were used to explore the underlying mechanisms.

Results: We found that BHGJT inhibited cell proliferation via a dose-dependent pathway and obviously hindered tumor growth in vivo in lung cancer. Cell cycle arrest and apoptosis were pronouncedly induced by BHGJT via dysregulation of the cell cycle regulators CDK4 and Cyclin D1 and dysregulation of apoptosis-associated proteins, such as cleaved caspase 3/9 and the BCL-2 family. Based on a network pharmacology-based analysis and experimental evidence, we demonstrated that the AKT/GSK3β/β-catenin signaling pathways were responsible for BHGJT-induced apoptosis in lung cancer cells. Additionally, autophagy was induced by BHGJT via the AMPK/mTORC1/ULK1 signaling pathway, and blocking autophagy with either chloroquine or a ULK1 inhibitor increased the killing efficiency of BHGJT in lung cancer cells.

Conclusion: Our findings indicate that the BHGJT formula efficiently inhibits lung cancer growth and represents a potential complementary and alternative treatment for lung cancer.

Keywords: Bai-He-Gu-Jin-Tang, Complementary and alternative treatment, Lung cancer, autophagy, apoptosis