Matrine is a major component of Sophora Flavescens and has been reported to stimulate differentiation of erythroleukemia cells. Here we show that matrine inhibits cell proliferation or induces apoptosis in a cell type-specific manner. The latter effect was investigated in more detail in the p53 deficient erythroleukemia cell line, K562. Matrine exposure induced apoptosis in a time- and dose-dependent manner in these cells. Interestingly, co-treatment with etoposide potentiated apoptosis. Further analysis of matrine-induced apoptotic changes revealed that E2F-1 and Apaf-1 were upregulated, whereas Rb was downregulated after 24 h of exposure. This was followed by Bax translocation, cytochrome c release, and caspase-9 and -3 activation. These results demonstrate that matrine triggers apoptosis of K562 cells primarily through the mitochondrial pathway and that matrine is a potential anti-tumor drug.
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