Background: Caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), a bioactive component of propolis, has beneficial effects on cancer prevention. Growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) is an antitumor gene of bladder cancer. Therefore, this study investigated the anti-cancer effect of CAPE on bladder carcinoma cells and related mechanisms. Methods: The expressions of GDF15, N-myc downstream-regulated gene 1 (NDRG1), and maspin, and the activations of extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK), c-jun Nterminal kinase (JNK), p38, and 50 adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) α1/2 in human bladder cells after gene transfection or knockdown were determined by immunoblot, real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), and reporter assays. The assays of 5-ethynyl-2′-deoxyuridine (EdU), CyQUANT cell proliferation, and Matrigel invasion, and the xenograft animal study were used to assess the cell proliferation, invasion, and tumorigenesis. Results: GDF15 expression in epithelial cells was negatively correlated with neoplasia in vitro. Also, GDF15 exhibits in bladder fibroblasts and smooth muscle cells. CAPE-induced expressions of NDRG1 and maspin decreased cell proliferation and invasion of bladder carcinoma cells in a GDF15-dependent manner in vitro. The xenograft animal study suggesting CAPE attenuated tumor growth in vivo. CAPE increased phosphorylation of ERK, JNK, p38, and AMPKα1/2 to modulate the GDF15 expressions. Pretreatments with ERK, JNK, or p38 inhibitors partially inhibited the CAPE effects on the inductions of GDF15, NDRG1, or maspin. Knockdown of AMPKα1/2 attenuated the CAPE-induced GDF15 expression and cell proliferation in bladder carcinoma cells. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that CAPE is a promising agent for anti-tumor growth in human bladder carcinoma cells via the upregulation of GDF15.
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