Ephedra is likely one of the oldest medicinal plants still currently in use. In folk medicine, extracts of Ephedra foeminea are commonly used to treat cancer patients. In relation to its traditional use, the aim of the present study was to determine the cytotoxic activity in vitro of E. foeminea extracts on cancer and non-cancer cells. Cell viability was determined using XTT assay, induction of apoptosis by cell sorting and caspase-3 inhibition, and the effects on cell cytoskeleton structure were detected using cell transfection utilizing different cytoskeleton markers. Chemical profiling, analysis of active extracts and identification of compounds was done using high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GCMS). E. foeminea leaf ethanol extract and E. foeminea fruit juice reduced cancer cell viability in vitro, whereas the water extract reduced cytotoxic activity in all cell lines. The extract's cytotoxic activity was conveyed at least partially via the induction of caspase 3-dependent cell apoptosis, and enhanced by the addition of Taxol. Both E. foeminea ethanol leaf extract and fruit juice affected actin-stained but not tubulin-stained filaments. Ethanol extract promoted the formation of invadopodia-like structures and fruit juice promoted the formation of large focal adhesion points in the treated cells. Active sub-fractions of E. foeminea extracts were found to contain several compounds including trans-sinapyl alcohol and trans-sinapaldehyde derivative.
Key words: Ephedra foeminea, plant extract, cancer cells, actin, invadopodia, apoptosis.
Z-VAD-FMK, N-Benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp (OMe)-fluoromethylketone; MMP9, matrix metallopeptidase 9; DDW, double distilled water; EtOH, ethanol; GAPDH, glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase.
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