Lung cancer is the most common and mortal cancer worldwide. Rhodiola rosea L. (RR), a well-known traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), has been turned out to be effective in anti-lung cancer therapy, but its molecular mechanism of action has not been clearly understood.
In this study, we aimed to elucidate the possible molecular mechanism underlying the effect of RR against non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) by systems pharmacology.
The effects of RR on NSCLC were examined in Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC) tumor-bearing mice models. The possible molecular mechanism was unraveled by systems pharmacology, which includes pharmacokinetics evaluation, active compounds screening, target prediction and network analysis. Cell proliferation was examined by cell counting kit-8 (CCK-8) assay; cell apoptosis was detected by flow cytometry; protein and proinflammatory cytokines expression were evaluated by Western blot and qRT-PCR.
In vivo, RR significantly inhibited the tumor growth and prolonged the survival of the tumor bearing mice. In silico, we identified 19 potential active molecules (e.g., salidroside and rhodiosin), 112 targets (e.g., COX-2 and AKT) and 27 pathways (e.g., PI3K/AKT signaling pathway and NF-κB signaling pathway) for RR. Additionally, targets analysis and networks construction further revealed that RR exerted anti-cancer effects by regulating apoptosis, angiogenesis and inflammation. In vitro, salidroside could significantly decrease expression of pro-angiogenic factors (e.g., VEGF and eNOS) and proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., COX-2, iNOS and TNF-α). Also, Bcl-2, an anti-apoptotic protein was decreased whereas Bax, a pro-apoptotic protein, was increased. Further flow cytometry analysis showed that salidroside could induce apoptosis in H1975 cells.
Mechanistically, the antitumor effect of RR on NSCLC was responsible for the synergy among anti-inflammatory, anti-angiogenic and pro-apoptotic.

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