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Leukemia is the most common type of hematological malignancies. Several natural products including bioactive peptides have been explored and studied for their anti-leukemic activities. In the present study, anti-leukemic peptide, IGTLILM (IM-7), was isolated and identified from the protein hydrolysate of sesame seeds by reverse phase-solid phase extraction, off-gel fractionation and nano LC-MS/MS. The cytotoxic effects of IM-7 were studied in MOLT-4 and NB4 acute leukemic cell lines using an MTT assay. The induction of apoptosis and autophagy was investigated by flow cytometry using Annexin V-FITC/PI staining and anti-LC3/FITC antibodies, respectively. The mRNA alterations of apoptotic and autophagic-related genes were determined by reverse transcription-quantitative PCR. The present study found that IM-7 inhibited the proliferation of MOLT-4 and NB4 cells in dose-dependent manner, but it showed a minimal effect on healthy mononuclear cells. IM-7 activated apoptosis and autophagy through the upregulation of CASP3, ULK1 and BECN1 and the downregulation of BCL2. In addition, IM-7 enhanced the cytotoxic effect of the anti-leukemic drug, daunorubicin. The findings suggested that IM-7 was potent to suppress the proliferation of MOLT-4 and NB4 leukemic cells and induce apoptosis and autophagy through the regulation of caspase 3-Bcl-2 and ULK1-Beclin1, respectively.
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