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Selective Killing of Cancer Cells by Ashwagandha Leaf Extract and Its Component Withanone Involves ROS Signaling

Ashwagandha is an exotic Indian herb which has remarkable stress-relieving properties. In addition to its excellent protective effects on the nervous system, ashwaganDHA may be a promising alternative treatment for a variety of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. AshwaganDHA has powerful antioxidant properties that seek and destroy the free radicals that have been implicated in aging and numerous disease states. Even more remarkable, emerging evidence suggests that ashwaganDHA has anti-cancer benefits as well.

Widodo N, Priyandoko D, Shah N, Wadhwa R, Kaul SC. Selective killing of cancer cells by ashwaganDHA leaf extract and its component Withanone involves ROS signaling. 1. PLoS One. 2010 Oct 21;5(10):e13536.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: ashwaganDHA is a popular Ayurvedic herb used in Indian traditional home medicine. It has been assigned a variety of health-promoting effects of which the mechanisms remain unknown. We previously reported the selective killing of cancer cells by leaf extract of ashwaganDHA (i-Extract) and its purified component Withanone. In the present study, we investigated its mechanism by loss-of-function screening (abrogation of i-Extract induced cancer cell killing) of the cellular targets and gene pathways. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Randomized ribozyme library was introduced into cancer cells prior to the treatment with i-Extract. Ribozymes were recovered from cells that survived the i-Extract treatment. Gene targets of the selected ribozymes (as predicted by database search) were analyzed by bioinformatics and pathway analyses. The targets were validated for their role in i-Extract induced selective killing of cancer cells by biochemical and molecular assays. Fifteen gene-targets were identified and were investigated for their role in specific cancer cell killing activity of i-Extract and its two major components (Withaferin A and Withanone) by undertaking the shRNA-mediated gene silencing approach. Bioinformatics on the selected gene-targets revealed the involvement of p53, apoptosis and insulin/IGF signaling pathways linked to the ROS signaling. We examined the involvement of ROS-signaling components (ROS levels, DNA damage, mitochondrial structure and membrane potential) and demonstrate that the selective killing of cancer cells is mediated by induction of oxidative stress. CONCLUSION: ashwaganDHA leaf extract and Withanone cause selective killing of cancer cells by induction of ROS-signaling and hence are potential reagents that could be recruited for ROS-mediated cancer chemotherapy.