Sicilian Litchi Fruit Extracts Induce Autophagy versus Apoptosis Switch in Human Colon Cancer Cells.
Nutrients. 2018 Oct 12 ;10(10). Epub 2018 Oct 12. PMID: 30322062
is a tropical tree whose fruits contain significant amounts of bioactive polyphenols. Litchi cultivation has recently spread in Sicily where the climate conditions are particularly favorable for this crop. Recent findings have shown that Litchi extracts display anti-tumor and pro-apoptotic effects in vitro, but the precise underlying mechanisms have not been fully elucidated. In this study, we report for the first time the effects of Sicilian litchi fruit extracts on colon cancer cells. The results indicated that litchi exocarp, mesocarp and endocarp fractions reduce the viability and clonogenic growth of HT29 cells. These effects were due to cell cycle arrest in the G2/M phase followed by caspase-dependent cell death. Interestingly, litchi exocarp and endocarp triggered a precocious autophagic response (16⁻24 h), which was accompanied by an increase in the level of autophagy related 1/autophagy activating kinase 1 (ATG1/ULK1), beclin-1, microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3)-II and p62 proteins. Autophagy inhibition by bafilomycin A1 or beclin-1 silencing increased cell death, thus suggesting that autophagy was initially triggered as a pro-survival response. Significant effects of Litchi extracts were also observed in other colon cancer cells, including HCT116 and Caco-2 cells. On the other hand, differentiated Caco-2 cells, a model of human enterocytes, appeared to be insensitive to the extracts at the same treatment conditions. High-Performance Liquid Chromatography⁻Electrospray Ionization-Quadrupole-Time-Of-Flight HPLC/ESI/Q-TOF evidenced the presence of some polyphenolic compounds, specifically in exocarp and endocarp extracts, that can account for the observed biological effects. The results obtained suggest a potential therapeutic efficacy of polyphenolic compounds purified from Sicilian Litchi fractions for the treatment of colon cancer. Moreover, our findings indicate that modulation of autophagy can represent a tool to improve the effectiveness of these agents and potentiate the anti-tumor response of colon cancer cells.