Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a hematological malignancy characterized by a rapid increase in the number of immature myeloid cells in bone marrow. Despite recent advances in the treatment, AML remains an incurable disease. Matrine, a major component extracted from Sophora flavescens Ait, has been demonstrated to exert anticancer effects on various cancer cell lines. However, the effects of matrine on AML remain largely unknown. Here we investigated its anticancer effects and underlying mechanisms on human AML cells in vitro and in vivo. The results showed that matrine inhibited cell viability and induced cell apoptosis in AML cell lines as well as primary AML cells from patients with AML in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Matrine induced apoptosis by collapsing the mitochondrial membrane potential, inducing cytochrome c release from mitochondria, reducing the ratio of Bcl-2/Bax, increasing activation of caspase-3, and decreasing the levels of p-Akt and p-ERK1/2. The apoptotic effects of matrine on AML cells were partially blocked by a caspase-3 inhibitor Z-DEVD-FMK and a PI3K/Akt activator IGF-1, respectively. Matrine potently inhibited in vivo tumor growth following subcutaneous inoculation of HL-60 cells in SCID mice. These findings indicate that matrine can inhibit cell proliferation and induce apoptosis of AML cells and may be a novel effective candidate as chemotherapeutic agent against AML.
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