Oral cancer is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer in Taiwanese men. Indirubin-3′-monoxime (I3M), a potent cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, has therapeutic effects in other cancer cells. In this study, we carried out in vitro assays to test cell viability, cell cycle progression, apoptosis, cell migration and invasion in this cancer type. In addition, using an oral tumorigenic animal model, we examined target gene and protein expression using real time qPCR, immunoblotting and immunohistochemical staining. Our results demonstrate that I3M has an anti-proliferative effect in both Cal-27 and HSC-3 oral cancer cell lines and that treatment of Cal-27 and HSC-3 cells with I3M results in apoptosis through the activation of cytochrome c. In addition, I3M interrupts the cell cycle in Cal-27 cells in a dose-dependent manner by arresting cells in the G2/M phase. We also found that I3M suppresses migration and invasion in Cal-27 cells by inhibiting the expression of focal adhesion kinase, urokinase-type plasminogen inhibitor, and matrix metalloproteinase 9. Moreover, we identified survivin as a target protein in I3M-treated oral cancer cells. Using an oral cancer mouse model, we demonstrate that topical application of an adhesive gel composed of I3M and poly(vinyl alcohol) (I3M/PVA) has dose-dependent anti-tumorigenic effects. Following treatment, the expression of survivin protein and mRNA was downregulated in cancerous tissues. Furthermore, plasma survivin levels were also reduced in the I3M-treated mice. These results suggest that topical application of I3M, a drug synthesized from indirubin, which is found in Qing-Dai – has therapeutic potential for treating oral cancer
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