Cancer stem cells (CSCs) have the ability to self-renew and induce drug resistance and recurrence in colorectal cancer (CRC). As current chemotherapy doesn’t eliminate CSCs completely, there is a need to identify novel agents to target them. We investigated the effects of cucurbitacin B (C-B) or I (C-I), a natural compound that exists in edible plants (bitter melons, cucumbers, pumpkins and zucchini), against CRC. C-B or C-I inhibited proliferation, clonogenicity, induced G2/M cell-cycle arrest and caspase-mediated-apoptosis of CRC cells. C-B or C-I suppressed colonosphere formation and inhibited expression of CD44, DCLK1 and LGR5. These compounds inhibited notch signaling by reducing the expression of Notch 1–4 receptors, their ligands (Jagged 1-2, DLL1,3,4), γ-secretase complex proteins (Presenilin 1, Nicastrin), and downstream target Hes-1. Molecular docking showed that C-B or C-I binds to the ankyrin domain of Notch receptor, which was confirmed using the cellular thermal shift assay. Finally, C-B or C-I inhibited tumor xenograft growth in nude mice and decreased the expression of CSC-markers and notch signaling proteins in tumor tissues. Together, our study suggests that C-B and C-I inhibit colon cancer growth by inhibiting Notch signaling pathway.
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