Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is an aggressive disease with a 5-year survival rate of <8%. Therefore, finding new treatment strategies against PDAC cells is an imperative issue. Betulinic acid (BA), a plant-derived natural compound, has shown great potential to combat cancer owing to its versatile physiological functions. In this study, we observed the impacts of BA on the cell viability and migratory ability of PDAC cell lines, and screened differentially expressed proteins (DEPs) by an LC-MS/MS-based proteomics analysis. Our results showed that BA significantly inhibited the viability and migratory ability of PDAC cells under a relatively low dosage without affecting normal pancreatic cells. Moreover, a functional analysis revealed that BA-induced downregulation of protein clusters that participate in mitochondrial complex 1 activity and oxidative phosphorylation, which was related to decreased expressions of RNA polymerase mitochondrial (POLRMT) and translational activator of cytochrome c oxidase (TACO1), suggesting that the influence on mitochondrial function explains the effect of BA on PDAC cell growth and migration. In addition, BA also dramatically increased Apolipoprotein A1 (APOA1) expression and decreased NLR family CARD domain-containing protein 4 (NLRC4) expression, which may be involved in the dampening of PDAC migration. Notably, altered expression patterns of APOA1 and NLRC4 indicated a favorable clinical prognosis of PDAC. Based on these findings, we identified potential proteins and pathways regulated by BA from a proteomics perspective, which provides a therapeutic window for PDAC.
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