Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Graduate School



First Advisor

Dr. Daret K. St. Clair


Parthenolide (PN), a major active component of the traditional herbal medicine feverfew, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. More remarkably, the cytotoxicity of PN seems selective to tumor cells but not their normal cell counterparts. In the present study, we investigate whether and how PN selectively enhances tumor sensitivity to radiation therapy by using prostate cancer cells LNCaP, DU145 and PC3, as well as normal prostate epithelial cells PrEC.

Our study demonstrates that inhibition of NF-κB pathway and suppression of its downstream target MnSOD are common mechanisms for the radiosensitization effect of PN in prostate cancer cells. The differential susceptibility to PN in two radioresistant cancer cells, DU145 and PC3, is due, in part, to the fact that in addition to NF-κB inhibition, PN activates the PI3K/Akt pro-survival pathway in both cell lines. The presence of PTEN in DU145 cells enhances the radiosensitization effect of PN by suppression of the steady state level of activated p-Akt.

We also demonstrate that PN selectively exhibits a radiosensitization effect on prostate cancer PC3 cells but not on normal prostate epithelial PrEC cells. PN causes oxidative stress in PC3 cells but not in PrEC cells, as determined by the oxidation of the ROS-sensitive probe H2DCFDA and intracellular reduced thiol and disulfide levels. In PC3 but not PrEC cells, PN activates NADPH oxidase leading to a decrease in the level of reduced thioredoxin, activation of PI3K/Akt and consequent FOXO3a phosphorylation, which results in the downregulation of FOXO3a targets, antioxidant enzyme MnSOD and catalase. Importantly, when combined with radiation, PN further increases ROS levels in PC3 cells, while it decreases radiation-induced oxidative stress in PrEC cells, possibly by increasing GSH level.

Overall, our data support the concept that increasing oxidative stress in cancer cells, which are already under high constitutive oxidative stress, will lead to cell death, while the same stress may allow normal cells to maintain redox homeostasis through adaptive response. Thus, modulating cell redox status may be a novel approach to efficiently and selectively kill cancer cells.



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