The association between chronic inflammation and cancer development has been well documented. One of the major obstacles in cancer treatment is the persistent autocrine and paracrine activation of pro-inflammatory transcription factors such as nuclear factor-κB, signal transducer and activator of transcription 3, activator protein 1, fork head box protein M1, and hypoxia-inducible factor 1α in a wide variety of tumor cell lines and patient specimens. This, in turn, leads to an accelerated production of cellular adhesion molecules, inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, anti-apoptotic molecules, and inducible nitric oxide synthase. Numerous medicinal plant-derived compounds have made a tremendous impact in drug discovery research endeavors, and have been reported to modulate the activation of diverse oncogenic transcription factors in various tumor models. Moreover, novel therapeutic combinations of standard chemotherapeutic drugs with these agents have significantly improved patient survival by making cancer cells more susceptible to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In this review, we critically analyze the existing literature on the modulation of diverse transcription factors by various natural compounds and provide views on new directions for accelerating the discovery of novel drug candidates derived from Mother Nature.
A prior screening programme carried out using MTT assay by our group identified a series of novel benzimidazole derivatives, among which Methyl 2-(5-fluoro-2-hydroxyphenyl)-1H- benzo[d]imidazole-5-carboxylate (MBIC) showed highest anticancer efficacy compared to that of chemotherapeutic agent, cisplatin. In the present study, we found that MBIC inhibited cell viability in different hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines without exerting significant cytotoxic effects on normal liver cells. Annexin V-FITC/PI flow cytometry analysis and Western blotting results indicated that MBIC can induce apoptosis in HCC cells, which was found to be mediated through mitochondria associated proteins ultimately leading to the activation of caspase-3. The exposure to MBIC also resulted in remarkable impairment of HCC cell migration and invasion. In addition, treatment with MBIC led to a rapid generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and substantial activation of c-Jun-N-terminal kinase (JNK). The depletion of ROS by N-Acetyl cysteine (NAC) partially blocked MBIC-induced apoptosis and JNK activation in HCC cells. Finally, MBIC significantly inhibited tumor growth at a dose of 25 mg/kg in an orthotopic HCC mouse model. Taken together, these results demonstrate that MBIC may inhibit cell proliferation via ROS-mediated activation of the JNK signaling cascade in HCC cells.