Dr. Weeks’ Comment: Black cumin seed – an agent used in many third world countries for helping people with cancer is well studied. Here we see the black cumin seed extract (thymoquinone) offering benefits in the treatment of people with the brain cancer called glioblastoma.
Thymoquinone inhibits autophagy and induces cathepsin-mediated, caspase-independent cell death in glioblastoma cells.
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive and common type of malignant brain tumor in humans, with a median survival of 15 months.
There is a great need for more therapies for the treatment of glioblastoma. Naturally occurring phytochemicals have received much scientific attention because many exhibit potent tumor killing action.
Thymoquinone (TQ) is the bioactive compound of the Nigella sativa seed oil. TQ has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-neoplastic actions with selective cytotoxicity for human cancer cells compared to normal cells.
Here, we show that TQ selectively inhibits the clonogenicity of glioblastoma cells as compared to normal human astrocytes. Also, glioblastoma cell proliferation could be impaired by chloroquine, an autophagy inhibitor, suggesting that glioblastoma cells may be dependent on the autophagic pathway for survival. Exposure to TQ caused an increase in the recruitment and accumulation of the microtubule-associated protein light chain 3-II (LC3-II).
TQ also caused an accumulation of the LC3-associated protein p62, confirming the inhibition of autophagy. Furthermore, the levels of Beclin-1 protein expression were unchanged, indicating that TQ interferes with a later stage of autophagy. Finally, treatment with TQ induces lysosome membrane permeabilization, as determined by a specific loss of red acridine orange staining. Lysosome membrane permeabilization resulted in a leakage of cathepsin B into the cytosol, which mediates caspase-independent cell death that can be prevented by pre-treatment with a cathepsin B inhibitor. TQ induced apoptosis, as determined by an increase in PI and Annexin V positive cells.
However, apoptosis appears to be caspase-independent due to failure of the caspase inhibitor z-VAD-FMK to prevent cell death and absence of the typical apoptosis related signature DNA fragmentation. Inhibition of autophagy is an exciting and emerging strategy in cancer therapy. In this vein, our results describe a novel mechanism of action for TQ as an autophagy inhibitor selectively targeting glioblastoma cells.