Antimicrobial peptides play important roles in the immune response to pathogens and tumor cells; for this reason, they are being exploited for therapeutic use. In this study, we describe a Litopenaeus vannamei
hemocyanin-derived peptide, denoted B11, which shares similar features with other anticancer peptides and attenuates the proliferation of cancer cells. Cell viability assay revealed that B11 significantly inhibited the proliferation of human cervical (HeLa), human hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2), and human esophageal cancer (EC109) cancer cell lines, but not normal liver cell lines (T-antigen-immortalized human liver epithelial (THLE) cells or THLE-3), by inducing morphological changes, nuclear condensation, and margination, features which are indicative of apoptosis. Besides, peptide B11-induced apoptosis was confirmed by isothiocyanate-labeled Annexin V/propidium iodide (Annexin V-FITC/PI) double staining of HeLa cells. Moreover, cell uptake studies, confocal microscopy, and Western blot analysis revealed that rhodamine-labeled B11 permeated HeLa cells and localized to the mitochondria, causing mitochondria dysfunction through lost mitochondrial membrane potential, which consequently triggered the induction of apoptosis. Increased expression levels of caspase-9, caspase-3, and Bax (Bcl-2-associated X) proteins, coupled with a decrease in Bcl-2 (B-cell lymphoma 2) protein, confirmed that peptide B11 induced apoptosis via the mitochondrial pathway. Thus, the hemocyanin-derived peptide, B11, inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells by causing mitochondrial dysfunction and inducing apoptotic cell death, for which reason it could be explored as an anticancer peptide.
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