Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) are common leukemia in adults. 20(S)-GRh2 is an important bioactive substance that is present in Panax ginseng. However, there are no investigations that deal with the comparison of apoptosis, the occurrence of autophagy, and the relationship between apoptosis and autophagy after being treated with 20(S)-GRh2 in AML and CML. In this study, we explored the effect of 20(S)-GRh2 on the AML and CML (U937 and K562). Fluorescence microscopy, CCK-8, Quantitative realtime PCR, Western blot, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and flow cytometric analysis were used to detect the occurrence of cell proliferation inhibition, apoptosis, and autophagy. By using the above methods, it was determined that apoptosis induced by 20(S)-GRh2 was more obvious in K562 than U937 cells and 20(S)-GRh2 could generate autophagy in K562 and U937 cells. When pretreated by a specific inhibitor of autophagy, (3-methyladenine), the 20(S)-GRh2-induced apoptosis was enhanced, which indicated that 20(S)-GRh2-induced autophagy may protect U937 and K562 cells from undergoing apoptotic cell death. On the other hand, pretreated by an apoptosis suppressor (Z-VAD-FMK), it greatly induced the autophagy and partially prevented 20(S)-GRh2 induced apoptosis. This phenomenon indicated that 20(S)-GRh2-induced autophagy may serve as a survival mechanism and apoptosis and autophagy could act as partners to induce cell death in a cooperative manner. These findings may provide a rationale for future clinical application by using 20(S)-GRh2 combined autophagy inhibitors for AML and CML.
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