Ursolic acid suppresses cholesterol biosynthesis and exerts anti-cancer effects in hepatocellular carcinoma cells

Geon Hee Kim, Sang Yeon Kan, Hyeji Kang, Sujin Lee, Hyun Myung Ko, Ji Hyung Kim, Ji Hong Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Abnormally upregulated cholesterol and lipid metabolism, observed commonly in multiple cancer types, contributes to cancer development and progression through the activation of oncogenic growth signaling pathways. Although accumulating evidence has shown the preventive and therapeutic benefits of cholesterol-lowering drugs for cancer management, the development of cholesterol-lowering drugs is needed for treatment of cancer as well as metabolism-related chronic diseases. Ursolic acid (UA), a natural pentacyclic terpenoid, suppresses cancer growth and metastasis, but the precise underlying molecular mechanism for its anti-cancer effects is poorly understood. Here, using sterol regulatory element (SRE)-luciferase assay-based screening on a library of 502 natural compounds, this study found that UA activates sterol regulatory element-binding protein 2 (SREBP2). The expression of cholesterol biosynthesis-related genes and enzymes increased in UA-treated hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells. The UA increased cell cycle arrest and apoptotic death in HCC cells and reduced the activation of oncogenic growth signaling factors, all of which was significantly reversed by cholesterol supplementation. As cholesterol supplementation successfully reversed UA-induced attenuation of growth in HCC cells, it indicated that UA suppresses HCC cells growth through its cholesterol-lowering effect. Overall, these results suggested that UA is a promising cholesterol-lowering nutraceutical for the prevention and treatment of patients with HCC and cholesterol-related chronic diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4767
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Oct 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (2016R1A5A2012284) and Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education (2018R1D1A1A02085330).

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


  • Cholesterol
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • SREBP2
  • Ursolic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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