We focus on investigating the role of Parthenolide (Par), a small sesquiterpenoid molecule, in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and its effective target.

Highly-metastatic HCC cells, MHCC97-H, were divided into the DMSO and the Par groups, of which the Par group was intervened at 5 and 10 mg/L doses. Cell viability was assessed by CCK-8 assay. Transwell chamber assay was performed to examine the metastatic and invasive abilities, while plate clone formation assay was conducted to detect the clone formation ability. For analysis of glucose uptake, glycolytic ability and lactate level, the glycolysis assay was employed. Brdu staining was performed to evaluate the cell proliferative potential. The P50 and HIF-1α levels were measured by immunofluorescence, while the expressions of p-P50 and HIF-1α were determined by Western-Blot. Small molecule–protein docking and Pull-down experiments were conducted to validate the Par–P50 binding model. After establishing the tumor-bearing mouse model, Par was administered by gavage to measure the tissue levels of P50 and HIF-1α, followed by plotting of tumor growth curves.

Par could inhibit the metastatic, invasive and clone formation abilities of MHCC97-H cells, reduce the cell proliferative potential, and suppress the glycolysis, as manifested by down-regulated level of lactate and reduced oxygen consumption. Meanwhile, Par inhibited the HIF-1α expression. We found that after silencing P50, the HIF-1α was down-regulated, the glycolytic ability decreased drastically, and the cellular metastatic and invasive abilities were suppressed. After P50 knockout, the effect of Par intervention on the MHCC97-H cells was reduced. In HCC-bearing mice, Par also exhibited an excellent anti-tumor effect, decreasing the tissue levels of P50 and HIF-1α.

This study discovers that Par can inhibit the HIF-1α-mediated glycolysis of HCC cells by targeting P50, thereby exerting an anti-tumor effect. P50 is a major effective target of Par.