High-performance liquid chromatography-purified ginsenosides as standard compounds (purity >98%) were purchased from Fleton Natural Products (Chengdu, China). Stock solutions of PPD (20 mM), CK (40 mM), and 20 (S)-Rh2 (40 mM) were prepared in dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) (Sigma Aldrich, St. Louise, MO, USA), while PD (20 mM) was prepared in absolute ethanol.
Cell culture and drug treatments
NPC cell line HK-1 was maintained in RPMI 1640 medium (Gibco, Grand Island , NY, USA) supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS) (Gibco) and 1% penicillin and streptomycin (Gibco) at 37°C in a humidified incubator with 5% CO2. HK-1 cells were starved in medium with 1% FBS for 24 h before drug treatment. Cells were treated with indicated concentrations of ginsenosides for different times in medium supplemented with 1% FBS.
Cell viability assay
Cell viability was determined by the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay. Briefly, HK-1 cells (1 × 104 cells/well) were seeded onto 96-well plates and incubated overnight. Cells were starved in medium with 1% FBS for 24 h and then subjected to different treatments for another 24 h. After that, MTT solution (USB, Cleveland, OH, USA) was added into each well to a final concentration of 0.5 mg/mL and incubated for 3 h. The culture medium was then removed and DMSO was added to solubilize the purple formazan product. Absorbances at wavelengths of 540 and 690 nm were measured by a microplate reader (ELx800, Biotek, Winooski, VT, USA).
Cell cycle analysis
HK-1 cells (1.5 × 105 cells/well) were seeded onto 6-well plates and incubated overnight. Cells were starved in medium with 1% FBS for 24 h and then treated with different ginsenosides for 24 h. Cells were harvested, washed with PBS (Gibco) twice, and fixed in 70% ethanol at −20°C. The cells were then stained with propidium iodide solution (Sigma-Aldrich) containing RNase A (1 mg/mL) (Roche, Mannheim, Germany). Cell-cycle analysis was performed with the FACSCalibur Flow Cytometer (BD Biosciences, San Jose, CA, USA) and the data were analyzed with the Cell Quest and the Modfit LT Version 3.0 software (Verity Software House, Topsham, Maine, USA).
Western blot analysis
After drug treatment, cytosolic and nuclear lysates were extracted with the NE-PER Nuclear Protein Extraction Kit (Millipore, Bedford, MD, USA) according to the manufacturer’s protocol. The cytosolic fraction was extracted with cytoplasmic lysis buffer (1× cytoplasmic lysis buffer, 0.5 mM DTT, 1:1000 dilution of inhibitor cocktail) while the nuclear fraction was extracted with nuclear extraction buffer (1× nuclear extraction buffer, 1:1000 dilution of inhibitor cocktail). Protein concentrations were determined with the Bio-Rad Dc protein assay kit (Bio-Rad, Hercules, CA, USA). Equal amounts of protein samples were separated by SDS-PAGE and transferred onto a nitrocellulose membrane. The membrane was then probed with primary antibodies (anti-AIF) (Cell Signaling, Beverly, MA, USA) and subsequently incubated with secondary antibodies (HRP-conjugated goat anti-rabbit IgG) (Invitrogen). After washing with 0.1% TBS-T (USB), the membrane was visualized by an enhanced chemiluminescence detection system (Bio-Rad). For the cytosolic fraction, protein expression was compared with β-actin (Sigma-Aldrich). For the nuclear fraction, lamin A/C (Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Santa Cruz, CA, USA) was used for normalization.
Xenografts in nude mice
Male BALB/c nude mice were purchased from the Animal Services Centre of Chinese University of Hong Kong. For the animal study, HK-1 cells were harvested and washed twice with PBS. For each site of injection, 3 × 106 HK-1 cells were suspended in 100 μL serum-free RPMI-1640 culture medium and mixed with Matrigel in a 1:1 ratio (BD Biosciences). The cell-matrigel mixture was inoculated subcutaneously into the left and right flanks of 6–7 week-old nude mice. When the tumors were palpable (8 days after injection), the tumor-bearing animals were randomly divided into two groups (four mice per group). In group 1, mice were treated with 10 mg/kg/day CK orally (CK was mixed in a 0.5% carboxymethyl cellulose [CMC] suspension). In group 2, mice were treated with 0.5% CMC orally as the control. Tumor sizes were measured daily and calculated using the formula (L × W2)/2 mm3 (L = length; W = width). The experiment was performed according to the Animals (Control of Experiments) Ordinance (Hong Kong) and followed the Hong Kong Baptist University’s guidelines on animal experimentation. The tumor inhibition (%) was calculated as follows:
Tumor inhibition (%) = (Tumor volume of control group − Tumor volume of CK-treated group)/(Tumor volume of control group).
Detection of mitochondrial membrane potential
HK-1 cells were incubated with 5 μg/mL JC-1 dye (Invitrogen) for 30 min. After that, cells were trypsinized and resuspended in PBS for flow cytometry analysis. JC-1 monomers and J-aggregates were detected by a flow cytometer on the FL1 and FL2 channels, respectively. The mitochondrial membrane potential is presented by the 580/530 nm ratio.
HK-1 cells were seeded on a glass coverslip at a density of 2 × 105 cells/well in a 6-well plate and incubated overnight. Cells were starved with 1% FBS medium for 24 h and then treated with or without CK for another 8 and 24 h. The medium was then removed and the glass cover slips were washed with PBS. After that, cells were fixed with 4% paraformaldehyde (Sigma Aldrich) for 10 min followed by washing with PBS three times. Cells were permeabilized with 0.2% of Triton X-100 for 10 min followed by washing with PBS. Cells were probed with anti-AIF antibody in 3% BSA (Sigma Aldrich) overnight at 4°C and then secondary antibody (PE-conjugated goat-anti-rabbit IgG) (Invitrogen) for 2 h at room temperature. After washing with PBS, the coverslip was incubated with DAPI (0.5 g/mL) (Invitrogen) for 5 min. Coverslips were mounted with fluorescence mounting medium on slides and were subjected to examination and image capture by an Olympus FV1000 confocal scanning laser microscope (Essex, UK).
Transfection of small interference RNA (siRNA)
HK-1 cells were seeded onto 6-well plates overnight, cells were then transfected with AIFM1 specific siRNA (50 nM) (Ambion, Austin, TX, USA) using Lipofectamine RNAiMAX transfection reagent (Invitrogen) in antibiotic-free RPMI-1640 culture medium. Drug treatment was performed 48 h after transfection.
All data were presented as mean ± standard deviation (S.D). Comparisons were subjected to Student’s t-test or Kruskal-Wallis One Way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) followed by Dunnets post hoc test for multiple comparisons. Statistical significance was accepted at P < 0.05.