3.1 Synthesis of ReHa analogs with different substituents
ReHa analogs with different substituents were prepared by following the synthesis procedure shown in Scheme 2. In brief, we used p-hydroxybenzaldehyde as raw material and then it was reduced to alcohol by sodium borohydride. The reaction were went through bromination, Wittig-Horner reaction between appropriate aldehydes and corresponding phosphonates in the presence of NaH in tetrahydrofuran (for synthetic details and characterization of all the ReHa analogs see the supplementary material)24–25.
3.2 Cytotoxicity of the ReHa analogs
As as shown in the Table 1, MTT assay showed that among the ReHa analogs tested, comparison with the ReHa-7 (no substituent hybrid with resveratrol and hans ester), the trifluoromethyl and Cl-substituent were more high toxicity than methoxyl groups and the meta-rtho trifluoromethyl (ReHa-2), Cl (ReHa-5)-substituent exhibited highest cytotoxicity on NCI-H460 cells, suggesting that the electron-withdrawing group were more toxic than electron-donating group. Because the electron pulling activity of trifluoromethyl is stronger than that of Cl-substituent, hence, ReHa-2 is the most cytotoxic among the compounds and its IC50 values was 9.90 µM in NCI-H460 cells. Therefore, we choose ReHa-2 to carry out the subsequent experiment.
Next, in order to assess the death models induced by ReHa-2 in NCI-H460 cells, some inhibitors on the cytotoxicity were examined. They contain 3-MA (an autophagy inhibitor), Z-VAD (an apoptotic inhibitor) and NEC (a necrotic inhibitor). As shown in Fig. 1A, 3-MA partally reversed the cytotoxicity, whereas Z-VAD or NEC further no affected the cytotoxicity. The above results suggested that the cytotoxicity of ReHa-2 depended partally on autophagy process rather than necrosis or apoptosis. In order to confirm the role of ROS in the cytotoxicity induced by ReHa-2, two redox modulators including CAT (a specific scavenger of H2O2) and DTT (a ROS scavenger) were use to conduct the experiment. Figure 1B exhibited that both CAT and DTT partally reversed the cytotoxicity induced by ReHa-2 in NCI-H460 cells. These results suggested that the cytotoxicity of ReHa-2 were related to ROS generation.
3.3 ReHa-2 induces ROS accumulation in NCI-H460 cells
Considering that ROS generation is essential for the cytotoxicity of ReHa-2 in NCI-H460 cells, we further used DCFH-CA, a widely used ROS fluorescent probe, to assay intracellular ROS levels in the cells. As shown in Fig. 2A, ReHa-2 induced an obvious intracellular ROS accumulation with 30 µM which increased 2.1-fold relative to the control at 9 h. In contrast, the cells treatment with diverse concentrations of NIP for 9 h induced negligible changes (Fig. 2B). The ROS accumulation induced by ReHa-2 is fully consistent with the design expectation.
3.4 ReHa-2 had no effect on cell cycle and apoptosis
Figure 1A showed that the cytotoxicity of ReHa-2 depends partally on autophagy process rather than necrosis or apoptosis process. To further clarify and make sure this point, we thus examined its effect on cell cycle distribution and apoptosis by using flow cytometry. As show in Fig. 3, ReHa-2 did not affect both cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in NCI-H460 cells. The above results suggested that the cytotoxicity of ReHa-2 in NCI-H460 cells depends on cell autophagic death.
3.5 ReHa-2 induces autophagic cell death in NCI-H460 cells
Since ReHa-2 had no apparent cyclic retarded and apoptotic effect on NCI-H460 cells, we investigated the effects of ReHa-2 on autophagy by using Western blotting. During the formation of autophagosomes, the autophagy-associated protein LC3 in cytoplasm changed from LC3-I form to LC3-II form with autophagosomal membrane specific binding. Conversion of LC3-I to LC3-II is associated with the formation of autophagosomes. During the autophagy process, protein p62 can transport substrates to be degraded to autophagosomes and then be degraded together with autophagosomes under the action of lysosomes29. Therefore, changes in p62 content during autophagy can reflect the completion of autophagy flow. Moreover, mTOR activity is regulated by amino acids and glucose levels in mammalian cells. The inhibition of mTOR were induced by rapamycin or starvation, which the conditions induced autophagy30. Figure 4 exhibited that ReHa-2 triggered time dependently up-regulation of LC3-II as well as down-regulation of p62, p-mTOR and dose dependently up-regulation of LC3-II as well as down-regulation of p62. From these results we infer that ReHa-2 can induce enrichment of autophagosomes by increasing the formation of autophagosomes rather than blocking its flow. Ultimately, ReHa-2 resulted of autophagic cell death in NCI-H460 cells.
3.6 ReHa-2 induces dysfunction of autophagy degradationautophagic and further leads to cell death in NCI-H460 cells
As an inhibitor of lysosome, chloroquine (CQ) can inhibit the fusion of autophagy and lysosome. Thus, it is often used in the study of autophagy and autophagy flow31. We investigated the effects of CQ on LC3 expression level induced by ReHa-2. As shown in Fig. 5, in this case of chloroquine, the expression levels of LC3-I and LC3-II were significantly enhanced with the increased of ReHa-2 concentration. In compare with parent molecule NIP, ReHa-2 exhibited down-regulation of p-mTOR expression. These results indicated that ReHa-2 activated autophagy by enhancing autophagy formation and then lead to autophagic death in NCI-H460 cells.
3.7 ReHa-2 activates MAPKs and Akt
MAPKs and Akt have also been confirmed to participate in the regulation of autophagy32–33. For example, in presence of Beclin complex, the apoptosis-related protein Bcl-2 enables the complex inhibits autophagy in vivo. Under starvation conditions, JNK can be activated and phosphorylation of Bcl-2 which weakens its binding ability with Beclin1, then it activates autophagy34. Figure 6 shows that ReHa-2 induced a time-dependent phosphorylation of Akt, ERK and JNK. In brief, ReHa-2 induced the highest protein expression of phosphorylation of Akt, JNK and ERK at 30 and 60 min respectively. These results suggested that MAPKs and Akt have been participated in the ReHa-2-induced autophagic death in NCI-H460 cells.
In summary, this work describes a novel autophagic cell death inducer ReHa-2, which based on hybrid with resveratrol and hans ester derivatives in NCI-H460 cells. Mechanistic study focused on NCI-H460 cells reveals that this molecule compared with the parent NIP could more effectively increase of intracellular ROS (mainly including H2O2), resulting in the increasing protein LC3-II and reducing p62 in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Moreover, ReHa-2 activated phosphorylation of Akt, JNK and ERK signal pathway (Scheme 3).