Triggering of Erythrocyte Cell Membrane Scrambling by Ursolic Acid Academic Article uri icon

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  • Ursolic acid (1), a triterpenoid with pleotropic effects including inhibition of tumor growth, is well known to trigger apoptosis of nucleated cells. The effect is at least partially due to altered gene expression and mitochondrial dysfunction. Erythrocytes lack nuclei and mitochondria but, similar to nucleated cells, may undergo suicidal cell death or eryptosis, which is characterized by cell shrinkage and phospholipid scrambling of the cell membrane. Triggers of eryptosis include increase of cytosolic Ca2+ activity ([Ca2+]i), ceramide formation and/or ATP depletion. The present study has investigated whether or not 1 induces eryptosis. [Ca2+]i was estimated from Fluo-3 fluorescence, cell volume from forward scatter, phospholipid scrambling from annexin V binding, hemolysis from hemoglobin release, and cytosolic ATP concentration ([ATP]i) utilizing a luciferase assay and ceramide-utilizing fluorescent antibodies in FACS analysis. As a result, exposure of erythrocytes for 48 h to 1 (≥5 μM) did not significantly modify [ATP]i, but significantly increased [Ca2+]i, stimulated ceramide formation, decreased forward scatter, triggered annexin V binding, and elicited hemolysis. At 5 μM, 1 stimulated phospholipid scrambling in 10% and hemolysis in 2% of treated erythrocytes. Annexin V binding was blunted in the nominal absence of Ca2+. In conclusion, the food component ursolic acid stimulates suicidal death of erythrocytes, i.e., cells devoid of nuclei and mitochondria.


  • Jilani, Kashif
  • Abed, Majed
  • Zelenak, Christine
  • Lang, Elisabeth
  • Qadri, Syed
  • Lang, Florian

publication date

  • October 28, 2011