Bufotalin is one of the bufadienolides isolated from Formosan Ch'an Su, which is made of the skin and parotid glands of toads. Ingestion of toad venom results in severe morbidity and high mortality. Although Ch'an Su is clinically toxic, it has been used as an important traditional Chinese medicine for heart failure and pains. In this study, bufotalin-induced apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma Hep 3B cells was investigated. The results indicate that externalization of phosphatidylserine, accumulation of sub-G1 cells, fragmentation of DNA, and formation of apoptotic bodies were observed in bufotalin-treated Hep 3B cells. The signaling pathway might be via the activation of caspase-8, increase in mitochondrial tBid, disruption of mitochondrial membrane potential, and translocation of apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF). Active caspase-8 might activate caspase-9 and caspase-3 leading to the cleavage of nuclear PARP. Presence of AIF and cleaved PARP in the nuclei might lead to DNA fragmentation. Caspase-8 inhibitor (Z-IETD) or wide-ranging caspase inhibitor (Z-VAD) significantly suppressed the bufotalin-induced apoptosis, while the anti-Fas neutralization antibody had no effect. These data suggest that bufotalin-induced apoptosis in Hep 3B cells might involve caspases and AIF.
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