Piperlongumine-induced nuclear translocation of the FOXO3A transcription factor triggers BIM-mediated apoptosis in cancer cells.
Biochem Pharmacol. 2019 May ;163:101-110. Epub 2019 Feb 10. PMID: 30753811
The transcription factor forkhead box O 3A (FOXO3A) is a tumor suppressor that promotes cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Piperlongumine (PL), a plant alkaloid, is known to selectively kill tumor cells while sparing normal cells. However, the mechanism of PL-induced cancer cell death is not fully understood. We report here that an association of FOXO3A with the pro-apoptotic protein BIM (also known as BCL2-like 11, BCL2L11) has a direct and specific function in PL-induced cancer cell death. Using HeLa cells stably expressing a FOXO3A-GFP fusion protein and several other cancer cell lines, we found that PL treatment induces FOXO3A dephosphorylation and nuclear translocation and promotes its binding to the BIM gene promoter, resulting in the up-regulation of BIM in the cancer cell lines. Accordingly, PL inhibited cell viability and caused intrinsic apoptosis in a FOXO3A-dependent manner. Of note, siRNA-mediated FOXO3A knockdown rescued the cells from PL-induced cell death. In vivo, the PL treatment markedly inhibited xenograft tumor growth, and this inhibition was accompanied by the activation of the FOXO3A-BIM axis. Moreover, PL promoted FOXO3A dephosphorylation by inhibiting phosphorylation and activation of Akt, a kinase that phosphorylates FOXO3A. In summary, our findings indicate that PL activates the FOXO3A-BIM apoptotic axis by promoting dephosphorylation and nuclear translocation of FOXO3A via Akt signaling inhibition. These findings uncover a critical mechanism underlying the effects of PL on cancer cells.