The effect of compound kushen injection on cancer cells: Integrated identification of candidate molecular mechanisms


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) preparations are often extracts of single or multiple herbs containing hundreds of compounds, and hence it has been difficult to study their mechanisms of action. Compound Kushen Injection (CKI) is a complex mixture of compounds extracted from two medicinal plants and has been used in Chinese hospitals to treat cancer for over twenty years. To demonstrate that a systematic analysis of molecular changes resulting from complex mixtures of bioactives from TCM can identify a core set of differentially expressed (DE) genes and a reproducible set of candidate pathways. We used in vitro cancer models to measure the effect of CKI on cell cycle phases and apoptosis, and correlated those phenotypes with CKI induced changes in gene expression. We treated two cancer cell lines with or without CKI and assessed the resulting phenotypes by employing cell viability and proliferation assays. Based on these results, we carried out high-throughput transcriptome data analysis to identify genes and candidate pathways perturbed by CKI. We integrated these differential gene expression results with previously reported results and carried out validation of selected differentially expressed genes. CKI induced cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in the cancer cell lines tested. In these cells CKI also altered the expression of 363 core candidate genes associated with cell cycle, apoptosis, DNA replication/repair, and various cancer pathways. Of these, 7 are clinically relevant to cancer diagnosis or therapy, 14 are cell cycle regulators, and most of these 21 candidates are downregulated by CKI. Comparison of our core candidate genes to a database of plant medicinal compounds and their effects on gene expression identified one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many regulatory relationships between compounds in CKI and DE genes. By identifying genes and promising candidate pathways associated with CKI treatment based on our transcriptome-based analysis, we have shown that this approach is useful for the systematic analysis of molecular changes resulting from complex mixtures of bioactives.

PLoS ONE 15(7):e0236395