Background/Aims: Mcl-1, an anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family member, is often overexpressed in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Bufalin has been reported to induce apoptosis in various tumor cells. However, there is no report showing that bufalin could downregulate Mcl-1 expression in NSCLC. Methods: Cell proliferation was analyzed by cell counting kit-8 (CCK-8) assay in H1975 cells. Cell apoptosis was detected by flow cytometry. Mcl-1 mRNA was detected by RT-PCR. The expression of apoptosis-associated proteins in H1975 cells was detected by western blotting. The levels of Mcl-1 ubiquitination and NOXA were analyzed by Immunoprecipitation assay. Results: Cell growth was inhibited by bufalin in a time and dose-dependent manner. Bufalin induced apoptosis in NSCLC cells by activating caspase cascades and downregulating Mcl-1 expression. However, overexpression of Mcl-1 diminished bufalin-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, bufalin did not reduce Mcl-1 mRNA expression in H1975 cells, but strongly promoted Mcl-1 protein degradation. Proteasome inhibitor MG132 markedly prevented the degradation of Mcl-1 and blocked bufalin-induced Mcl-1 reduction. Bufalin did not significantly affect NOXA protein levels, but downregulated the expression of p-GSK-3β. GSK-3 inhibitor and GSK-3β siRNA resulted in increased levels of Mcl-1 and reversed the bufalin-induced Mcl-1 degradation. Conclusion: Bufalin induced cell apoptosis in H1975 cells may be through downregulation of Mcl-1. Proteasomal degradation of Mcl-1 via GSK-3β activation was involved in bufalin-induced apoptosis.

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