Int J Biol Sci 2021; 17(11):2703-2717. doi:10.7150/ijbs.59404 This issue

Research Paper

Tagitinin C induces ferroptosis through PERK-Nrf2-HO-1 signaling pathway in colorectal cancer cells

Ruiran Wei1, Yueqin Zhao2, Juan Wang2, Xu Yang2, Shunlin Li2, Yinyuan Wang2, Xingzhi Yang2, Jimin Fei3, Xiaojiang Hao2, Yuhan Zhao2✉, Liming Gui1✉, Xiao Ding2✉

1. Center for Tissue Engineering and Stem Cell Research, Guizhou Medical University, 550004, Guiyang, China.
2. State Key Laboratory of Phytochemistry and Plant Resource in West China, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 650201, Kunming, China.
3. Yunnan Cancer Hospital & The Third Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University, 650118, Kunming, China.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Wei R, Zhao Y, Wang J, Yang X, Li S, Wang Y, Yang X, Fei J, Hao X, Zhao Y, Gui L, Ding X. Tagitinin C induces ferroptosis through PERK-Nrf2-HO-1 signaling pathway in colorectal cancer cells. Int J Biol Sci 2021; 17(11):2703-2717. doi:10.7150/ijbs.59404. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Rationale: Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a common malignant tumor of the digestive system. However, the efficacy of surgery and chemotherapy is limited. Ferroptosis is an iron- and reactive oxygen species (ROS)-dependent form of regulated cell death (RCD) and plays a vital role in tumor suppression. Ferroptosis inducing agents have been studied extensively as a novel promising way to fight against therapy resistant cancers. The aim of this study is to investigate the mechanism of action of tagitinin C (TC), a natural product, as a novel ferroptosis inducer in tumor suppression.

Methods: The response of CRC cells to tagitinin C was assessed by cell viability assay, clonogenic assay, transwell migration assay, cell cycle assay and apoptosis assay. Molecular approaches including Western blot, RNA sequencing, quantitative real-time PCR and immunofluorescence were employed as well.

Results: Tagitinin C, a sesquiterpene lactone isolated from Tithonia diversifolia, inhibits the growth of colorectal cancer cells including HCT116 cells, and induced an oxidative cellular microenvironment resulting in ferroptosis of HCT116 cells. Tagitinin C-induced ferroptosis was accompanied with the attenuation of glutathione (GSH) levels and increased in lipid peroxidation. Mechanistically, tagitinin C induced endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and oxidative stress, thus activating nuclear translocation of nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). As a downstream gene (effector) of Nrf2, heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) expression increased significantly with the treatment of tagitinin C. Upregulated HO-1 led to the increase in the labile iron pool, which promoted lipid peroxidation, meanwhile tagitinin C showed synergistic anti-tumor effect together with erastin.

Conclusion: In summary, we provided the evidence that tagitinin C induces ferroptosis in colorectal cancer cells and has synergistic effect together with erastin. Mechanistically, tagitinin C induces ferroptosis through ER stress-mediated activation of PERK-Nrf2-HO-1 signaling pathway. Tagitinin C, identified as a novel ferroptosis inducer, may be effective chemosensitizer that can expand the efficacy and range of chemotherapeutic agents.

Keywords: ferroptosis, tagitinin C, ROS, ER stress, Nrf2-HO-1 pathway