Experimental cell research

Plant stilbenes induce endoplasmic reticulum stress and their anti-cancer activity can be enhanced by inhibitors of autophagy.

PMID 26477823


Environmental conditions or chemical agents can interfere with the function of the endoplasmic reticulum, and the resulting endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress can be toxic to the cell if it is not relieved. The classical compensatory response to ER stress is the unfolded protein response (UPR) that reduces protein load in the ER. However, autophagy may also compensate by removing large insoluble protein aggregates. Agents that stress the ER can have anti-cancer activity, and novel applications of ER stress inducing agents are being investigated. Plant stilbenes are a class of stress responsive molecules that includes resveratrol, which are being investigated as potential therapeutics in humans for conditions such as aging or cancer. We performed a screen of 1726 small, drug like molecules to identify those that could activate an ER-stress responsive luciferase gene. After secondary screening, we determined that the plant stilbenes pterostilbene and piceatannol were the most potent inducers of ER stress from this group. ER stress can be particularly toxic to cells with high ER load, so we examined their effect on cells expressing the Wnt family of secreted glycoprotein growth factors. Molecular analysis determined that these ER stress-inducing stilbenes could block Wnt processing and also induce autophagy in acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells expressing Wnt16. Combining pterostilbene (to induce ER stress) with chloroquine (to inhibit autophagy) lead to significant cellular toxicity in cells from aggressive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Plant stilbenes are potent inducers of ER stress. However, their toxicity is more pronounced in cancer cells expressing Wnt growth factors. The toxicity of stilbenes in these ALL cells can be potentiated by the addition of autophagy inhibitors, suggesting a possible therapeutic application.