Capsaicin synergizes with camptothecin to induce increased apoptosis in human small cell lung cancers via the calpain pathway

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Graphical abstractSmall cell lung cancer (SCLC) is characterized by excellent initial response to chemotherapy and radiation therapy with a majority of the patients showing tumor shrinkage and even remission. However, the challenge with SCLC therapy is that patients inevitably relapse and subsequently do not respond to the first line treatment. Recent clinical studies have investigated the possibility of camptothecin-based combination therapy as first line treatment for SCLC patients. Conventionally, camptothecin is used for recurrent SCLC and has poor survival outcomes. Therefore, drugs which can improve the therapeutic index of camptothecin should be valuable for SCLC therapy. Extensive evidence shows that nutritional compounds like capsaicin (the spicy compound of chili peppers) can improve the anti-cancer activity of chemotherapeutic drugs in both cell lines and animal models. Statistical analysis shows that capsaicin synergizes with camptothecin to enhance apoptosis of human SCLC cells. The synergistic activity of camptothecin and capsaicin is observed in both classical and variant SCLC cell lines and, in vivo, in human SCLC tumors xenotransplanted on chicken chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) models. The synergistic activity of capsaicin and camptothecin are mediated by elevation of intracellular calcium and the calpain pathway. Our data foster hope for novel nutrition based combination therapies in SCLC.

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