Colorectal cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Here, we investigated the anticancer effect of Rhus coriaria extract (RCE) on HT-29 and Caco-2 human colorectal cancer cells. We found that RCE significantly inhibited the viability and colony growth of colon cancer cells. Moreover, RCE induced Beclin-1-independent autophagy and subsequent caspase-7-dependent apoptosis. Blocking of autophagy by chloroquine significantly reduced RCE-induced cell death, while blocking of apoptosis had no effect on RCE-induced cell death. Mechanistically, RCE inactivated the AKT/mTOR pathway by promoting the proteasome-dependent degradation of both proteins. Strikingly, we also found that RCE targeted Beclin-1, p53 and procaspase-3 to degradation. Proteasome inhibition by MG-132 not only restored these proteins to level comparable to control cells, but also reduced RCE-induced cell death and blocked the activation of autophagy and apoptosis. The proteasomal degradation of mTOR, which occurred only 3 hours post-RCE treatment was concomitant with an overall increase in the level of ubiquitinated proteins and translated stimulation of proteolysis by the proteasome. Our findings demonstrate that Rhus coriaria possesses strong anti-colon cancer activity through stimulation of proteolysis as well as induction of autophagic and apoptotic cell death, making it a potential and valuable source of novel therapeutic cancer drug.
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