The plant alkaloid voacamine induces apoptosis-independent autophagic cell death on both sensitive and multidrug resistant human osteosarcoma cells.


In our previous studies, the bisindolic alkaloid voacamine (VOA), isolated from the plant Peschiera fuchsiaefolia, proved to exert a chemosensitizing effect on cultured multidrug resistant (MDR) osteosarcoma cells exposed to doxorubicin (DOX). In particular, VOA was capable of inhibiting P-glycoprotein action in competitive way, thus explaining the enhancement of the cytotoxic effect induced by DOX on MDR cells. Afterwards, preliminary observations suggested that such an enhancement did not involve the apoptotic process but was rather due to the induction of autophagic cell death. The results of the present investigation demonstrate that the plant alkaloid VOA is an autophagy inducer able to exert apoptosis-independent cytotoxic effect on both wild type and MDR tumor cells. In fact, under treatment condition causing about 50% of cell death, no evidence of apoptosis could be revealed by microscopical observations, Annexin V-FITC labeling and analysis of PARP cleavage, whereas the same cells underwent apoptosis when treated with apoptosis inducers, such as doxorubicin and staurosporine. Conversely, VOA-induced autophagy was clearly evidentiated by electron microscopy observations, monodansylcadaverine staining, LC3 expression and conversion. These results were confirmed by the analysis of the modulating effects of the pretreatment with autophagy inhibitors prior to VOA administration. In addition, transfection of osteosarcoma cells with siRNA against ATG genes reduced VOA cytotoxicity. In conclusion, considering the very debated dual role of autophagy in cancer cells (protective or lethal, pro- or anti-apoptotic) our findings seem to demonstrate, at least in vitro, that a natural product able to induce autophagy can be effective against drug resistant tumors, either used alone or in association with conventional chemotherapeutics.



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