The study of anticancer properties from natural products has regained popularity as natural molecules provide
a high diversity of chemical structures with specific biological and medicinal activity. Based on a documented library of
the most common medicinal plants used by the indigenous people of North America, we screened and isolated
compounds with anti-breast cancer properties from Juniperus communis (common Juniper). Using bioassay-guided
fractionation of a crude plant extract, we identified the diterpene isocupressic acid and the aryltetralin lignan deoxypodophyllotoxin
(DPT) as potent inducers of caspase-dependent programmed cell death (apoptosis) in malignant MB231 breast cancer cells. Further
elucidation revealed that DPT, in contrast to isocupressic acid, also concomitantly inhibited cell survival pathways mediated by the
MAPK/ERK and NFκB signaling pathways within hours of treatment. Our findings emphasize the potential and importance of natural
product screening for new chemical entities with novel anticancer activities. Natural products research complemented with the wealth of
information available through the ethnobotanical and ethnopharmacological knowledge of the indigenous peoples of North America can
provide new candidate entities with desirable bioactivities to develop new cancer therapies.
Keywords: Apoptosis, breast cancer, caspase, deoxypodophyllotoxin, ERK, isocupressic acid, Juniperus communis, NFκB.
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