Oncol Lett. 2016 Jan;11(1):610-618
Melittin, a significant constituent of Apis mellifera (honeybee) venom, is a water-soluble toxic peptide that has traditionally been used as an antitumor agent. However, the underlying mechanisms by which it inhibits tumor cell growth and angiogenesis remain to be elucidated.
In the present study, screening for increased cathepsin S (Cat S) expression levels was performed in MHCC97-H cells and various other hepatocellular carcinoma cell lines by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and western blot analysis. A pcDNA3.1-small hairpin RNA (shRNA)-Cat S vector was stably transfected into MHCC97-H cells (shRNA/MHCC97-H) in order to knockdown the expression of Cat S. The effects resulting from the inhibition of Cat S-induced proliferation, invasion and angiogenesis by melittin were examined using cell proliferation, cell viability, flat plate colony formation, migration, wound healing, Transwell migration and ELISA assays. In order to substantiate the evidence for melittin-mediated inhibition of Cat S-induced angiogenesis, Cat S RNA was transfected into primary human umbilical vein endothelial cells (Cat S-HUVECs) to induce overexpression of the Cat S gene.
The effects of melittin on HUVECs were examined using Transwell migration and tube formation assays. The findings demonstrated that melittin was able to significantly suppress MHCC97-H cell (Mock/MHCC97-H) proliferation, invasion and angiogenesis, as well as capillary tube formation of Cat S-HUVECs, in a dose-dependent manner. However, proliferation, invasion and angiogenesis in shRNA/MHCC97-H and in native HUVECs (Mock-HUVECs) were unaffected. In addition, melittin specifically decreased the expression of phosphorylated (activated) Cat S, and components of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A/VEGF receptor 2 (VEGFR-2)/mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1 (MEK1)/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2 signaling pathway in Mock/MHCC97-H cells.
In conclusion, the inhibition of tumor cell growth and anti-angiogenic activity exerted by melittin may be associated with anti-Cat S actions, via the inhibition of VEGF-A/VEGFR-2/MEK1/ERK1/2 signaling.