Ovarian cancer is a very common gynecological malignant tumor. Natural products are important sources of chemotherapy drugs for ovarian cancer. Damnacanthal is an anthraquinone derivative with anti-cancer pharmacological properties.
This study aimed to investigate the mechanisms underlying damnacanthal’s effects against ovarian cancer.
In vitro experiments, CCK8, colony formation and flow cytometry assays were used to evaluate the anti-ovarian cancer effect of damnacanthal on SKVO3 and A2780 cells. The wound healing tests and the transwell invasion assays were used to detect the migration and infiltration of ovarian cancer cells. Western Blot assays and immunofluorescence staining were used to measure autophagy levels. In vivo experiments, the anti-ovarian cancer effect of damnacanthal was further evaluated in a xenograft nude mouse model of SKVO3 cells.
Damnacanthal induced significant cell death and apoptosis, as well as significant inhibition in migration and invasion, in SKVO3 and A2780 cells, Furthermore, damnacanthal induced cell cycle arrest by increasing the protein levels of p27Kip1 and decreasing cyclin D1 levels. In addition, damnacanthal induced a significant accumulation of autophagosomes, accompanied with an increase in LC3II protein levels, and a decrease in p62 protein levels. 3-methyladenine, an autophagy formation inhibitor, significantly mitigated the damnacanthal-induced apoptosis and migration hindrance, as well as the decline in cell viability. Furthermore, the inactivation of ERK and its downstream effector mTOR signaling pathways, rather than Akt or P38 pathway, were involved in damnacanthal’s activation in autophagy. In addition, TBHQ, an ERK activator, significantly inhibited damnacanthal-boosted LC3 II levels and autophagosome accumulation, and reversed damnacanthal-induced cell death, apoptosis, cell cycle arrest and migration hindrance. Finally, the anti-ovarian cancer effect of damnacanthal was confirmed in the orthotopic xenograft model of SKVO3 cells in nude mice, with tumor growth being significantly inhibited comparably to the efficacy of cisplatin. Damnacanthal was also synergistic with cisplatin and showed inhibition in cisplatin-resistant ovarian cancer cells.
Damnacanthal inhibited the growth of ovarian cancer via the ERK/mTOR/autophagy signaling cascade, indicating that it may be a potential anti-ovarian cancer drug candidate.

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