Thymoquinone selectively kills hypoxic renal cancer cells by suppressing HIF‐1α‐mediated glycolysis

Yoon Mi Lee, Geon Hee Kim, Eun Ji Park, Taek In Oh, Sujin Lee, Sang Yeon Kan, Hyeji Kang, Byeong Mo Kim, Ji Hyung Kim, Ji Hong Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Several reports have shown that thymoquinone (TQ) effectively attenuates angiogenesis in cancer cells, resulting in suppression of tumor growth. However, it is not yet clear whether TQ reduces hypoxia‐inducible factor‐1α (HIF‐1α) expression in hypoxic cancer cells. Here, we found that TQ was a novel HIF‐1α inhibitor through hypoxia response element (HRE)‐luciferase assay-based large screening by using 502 natural compounds containing chemical library. TQ reduced HIF‐1α protein levels in renal cancer cells; however, it did not affect the HIF‐1α protein levels in the presence of proteasome inhibitor, MG132, indicating that the reduction effects of TQ on HIF‐1α protein are mediated via the ubiquitination‐proteasome dependent pathway. TQ boosted HIF‐1α protein degradation, and the mechanism was revealed by inhibiting interaction between HSP90 and HIF‐1α. TQ suppressed downstream genes of HIF‐1α, indicating negative impact of TQ on HIF‐1α transcriptional activities. In addition, TQ altered glucose, lactate, and ATP levels, leading to anaerobic metabolic disturbance. TQ induced apoptosis in hypoxic cancer cells as determined by crystal violet staining and flow cytometry for annexin V‐stained cells. Taken together, we suggested that TQ is a potential anticancer agent targeting HIF‐1α.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1092
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Mar

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This work was supported by Konkuk University in 2016.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Glycolysis
  • HIF‐1α
  • Renal cancer
  • Thymoquinone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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