A little known Chinese compound is making headlines. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, have determined the mechanism by which the thunder plant compound literally kills cancer. The Chinese plant known as the “thunder god vine”, or “lei gong teng” is an integral part of Chinese medicine and has been used to treat diverse medical conditions.
Pancreatic cancer is a particularly aggressive form of cancer with a five year survival rate. A protein, GRP78, protects cancer cells from dying and is more prevalent in cancer cells and tissue than in normal organs. The protein has been linked to the ability of cancer cells to survive by impacting on the cell metabolism, (endoplasmic reticulum ER), and a cellular process called the unfolded protein response.
The researchers demonstrated that triptolide suppresses GRP78, leading to pancreatic cancer cell death. In cells treated with triptolide the unfolded protein response worked properly leading to cell death in malfunctioning cancer cells. “Our study shows that although increased expression of GRP78 confers a survival advantage to the tumor cells, prolonged exposure to triptolide induces chronic ER stress, which eventually leads to cell death,” the authors said. “In this context, inhibition of GRP78 by activation of the ER stress pathway by triptolide offers a novel mechanism for inhibiting the growth and survival of pancreatic cancer cells.”
N. Mujumdar, S. Banerjee, Z. Chen, V. Sangwan, R. Chugh, V. Dudeja, M. Yamamoto, S. M. Vickers, A. K. Saluja. Triptolide activates unfolded protein response leading to chronic ER stress in pancreatic cancer cells. AJP: Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 2014; 306 (11): G1011 DOI: 10.1152/ajpgi.00466.2013