B-Cell-specific Moloney murine leukemia virus insertion region 1 (BMI1) is a core component of the polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1). Abnormal expression of BMI1 is associated with a number of human malignances and cancer stem cells (CSCs), which cause chemotherapy resistance. Therefore, small molecules that inhibit BMI1 expression are potential candidates for cancer therapy. In this study, a cell-based reporter gene assay was developed that allowed BMI1 promoter activity to be measured in 293T human embryonic kidney cells based on luciferase expression levels. Using this screening assay, the methanol-soluble extracts of Beaumontia murtonii and Eugenia operculata were selected as leads. Bioassay-guided fractionation of the extracts led to the isolation of three known cardenolides (1-3) and one new compound (4) from B. murtonii and two known triterpenoids (5 and 6) and one new compound (7) from E. operculata. These seven compounds inhibited BMI1 promoter activity (IC50 range 0.093-23.0 μM), and the most active compound, wallichoside (1), was further evaluated. Western blot analysis revealed that wallichoside (1) decreases BMI1 protein levels in HCT116 human colon carcinoma cells, and flow cytometry analysis showed that it significantly reduced levels of the CSC biomarker epithelial cell adhesion molecule. Wallichoside (1) also inhibited sphere formation of Huh7 human hepatocellular carcinoma cells, indicating that it diminished the self-renewal capability of CSCs.
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