Background: Temozolomide (TMZ) is a first-line chemotherapeutic drug for malignant gliomas. Nonetheless, TMZ-induced side effects and drug resistance remain challenges. Our previous study showed the suppressive effects of honokiol on growth of gliomas. Purpose: This study was further aimed to evaluate if honokiol could enhance TMZ-induced insults toward malignant glioma cells and its possible mechanisms. Methods: Human U87 MG glioma cells were exposed to TMZ, honokiol, and a combination of TMZ and honokiol. Cell survival, apoptosis, necrosis, and proliferation were successively assayed. Fluorometric substrate assays were conducted to determine activities of caspase-3, -6, -8, and -9. Levels of Fas ligand, Bax, and cytochrome c were immunodetected. Translocation of Bax to mitochondria were examined using confocal microscopy. Mitochondrial function was evaluated by assaying the mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), reactive oxygen species (ROS), and complex I enzyme activity. Caspase-6 activity was suppressed using specific peptide inhibitors. The honokiol-induced effects were further confirmed using human U373 MG and murine GL261 cells. Results: Exposure of human U87 MG glioma cells to honokiol significantly increased TMZ-induced DNA fragmentation and cell apoptosis. Interestingly, honokiol enhanced intrinsic caspase-9 activity without affecting extrinsic Fas ligand levels and caspase-8 activity. Sequentially, TMZ-induced changes in Bax translocation, the MMP, mitochondrial complex I enzyme activity, intracellular ROS levels, and cytochrome c release were enhanced by honokiol. Consequently, honokiol amplified TMZ-induced activation of caspases-3 and -6 in human U87 MG cells. Fascinatingly, suppressing caspase-6 activity concurrently decreased honokiol-induced DNA fragmentation and cell apoptosis. The honokiol-involved improvement in TMZ-induced intrinsic apoptosis was also confirmed in human U373 MG and murine GL261 glioma cells. Conclusions: This study showed that honokiol can enhance TMZ-induced apoptotic insults to glioma cells via an intrinsic mitochondrion-dependent mechanism. Our results suggest the therapeutic potential of honokiol to attenuate TMZ-induced side effects.
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