Chem Biol Interact. 2020 Nov 9:109320. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2020.109320. Online ahead of print.
Betulinic acid and betulin show promising activity against cancers cells, but the mechanism of their action is still unclear. In this study, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines: A549, H358 and NCI-H1703 were treated with betulinic acid and betulin under normoxic and hypoxic conditions as hypoxia is critically involved in the response of solid tumors to chemotherapy. The treatment inhibits viability and proliferation of NSCLC cells. The anti-proliferative effect was induced by G1 cell
cycle arrest with increased p21 expression and decreased cyclin D1 and cyclin B1 expression. Additionally, downregulation of p-GSK3β activity and the Wnt/β-catenin pathway were also observed under hypoxia. We found that hypoxia increased apoptosis in NSCLC cells. Cell death was associated with changes in the expression of proteins involved in the mitochondrial apoptosis pathway and induction of apoptotic death by caspase activation. Additionally, hypoxia exposure deregulated HIF-1α and p53 expression levels. Importantly, treatment with betulinic acid and betulin reduced colony-forming ability under normoxia, however, only betulinic acid reduced clonogenic activity under hypoxia. Our findings that betulinic acid increases apoptotic cell death and clonogenic activity under hypoxic conditions reveal new attractive strategies for treating hypoxic cancer tumors, such as NSCLC.