Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death among gynecologic cancer patients. Although platinum-based chemotherapy as a frontline treatment for ovarian cancer has been widely used in clinical settings, its clinical efficacy is not satisfactory due to the resistance of ovarian cancer cells to apoptosis. Therefore, it is of great significance to induce non-apoptotic programed cell death patterns, such as paraptosis, in ovarian cancer. In this study, we aimed to explore the potential anticancer mechanisms of novel rhein derivative 4a, which was modified with rhein as a lead compound. The results showed that a wide range of vacuoles from the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria appeared in ovarian SKOV3, SKOV3-PM4, and A2780 cells treated with derivative 4a, and the cell death caused by derivative 4a is a type of non-apoptotic and non-autophagic death, which is caused by expansion and damage of the endoplasmic reticulum or mitochondria, showing the characteristics of para-apoptotic death. Furthermore, derivative 4a stimulated the unfolded protein reaction of ovarian cancer cells by upregulating the expression of Bip78 and activating the PERK-eIF2α-ATF4 pathways. Notably, rhein derivative 4a-induced cell death was positively correlated with activation of p38, ERK, and JNK, and negatively correlated with Alix, a known protein that inhibits paraptosis. In addition, derivative 4a treatment also induced G2/M phase arrest in ovarian cancer cells. Taken together, our study reveals that derivative 4a induces paraptosis, and this finding can serve as a basis in developing a new strategy for the treatment of antiapoptotic ovarian cancer.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.

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