The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a causative agent of acute chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and hepatocarcinoma. The Hepatitis B virus X protein (HBx) has pleiotypic functions in the regulation of proliferation and apoptosis. It has been suggested that the anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine, which is commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, inhibits nuclear factor NF-kappaB and induces cell death in HBx-expressing liver cells. In this study, we demonstrate that sulfasalazine induces cell death via apoptosis in HBx-expressing liver cells, as evidenced by characteristic changes in nuclear morphology, cleavage of poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP), caspase-3 and caspase-9, and activation of caspase-3. We also demonstrate that inhibition of NF-kappaB by siRNA fails to induce apoptosis of HBx-expressing liver cells, indicating that sulfasalazine modulates apoptosis of HBx-expressing cells in an NF-kappaB-independent manner.
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