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Anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects of Uncaria tomentosa aqueous extract in squamous carcinoma cells

Uncaria tomentosa (Willd.) DC. (Rubiacee), also known as uña de gato, is a plant that grows wild in the upper Amazon region of Peru and has been widely used in folk medicine to treat several health conditions including cancer. We have produced an aqueous extract from Uncaria tomentosa (UT-ex) and analyzed its effects on squamous carcinoma cells and immortalized HaCaT keratinocytes. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising in the skin's squamous layer of epidermis. When detected at an early stage, SCCs are almost curable, however, if left untreated, they can penetrate the underlying tissue and become disfiguring. We have evaluated cell proliferation, apoptosis and the level of reactive oxygen species following UT-ex treatment. UT-ex affected cell cycle progression and reduced cell viability in a dose and time-dependent manner. From a mechanistic point of view, this delay in cell growth coincided with the increase of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Furthermore, PARP1 cleavage was associated to the reduction of Y-box binding protein 1 (YB-1) 36 kDa, a nuclear prosurvival factor involved in DNA damage repair. These data indicate that UT-exinduced cell death can be ascribed, at least in part, to its ability both to induce oxidative DNA damage and antagonize the mechanism of DNA repair relying upon YB-1 activity. They also show that non metastatic SCCs are more susceptible to UT-ex treatment than untransformed keratinocytes supporting the use of UT-ex for the treatment of precancerous and early forms of squamous cell carcinomas. Preliminary chemical investigation of UT-ex revealed the presence of hydrophilic low-medium molecular weight metabolites with anticancer potential towards squamous carcinoma cells.

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