Anti-Austerity Activity of Thai Medicinal Plants: Chemical Constituents and Anti-Pancreatic Cancer Activities of Kaempferia parviflora

Human pancreatic tumor cells have an intrinsic ability to tolerate nutrition starvation and survive in the hypovascular tumor microenvironment, the phenomenon termed as “austerity”. Searching for an agent that inhibits such tolerance to nutrient starvation and kills the pancreatic cancer cells preferentially in nutrient-starvation is a unique anti-austerity strategy in anti-cancer drug discovery. In this strategy, plant extracts and compounds are tested against PANC-1 human pancreatic cancer cell line under the conditions of nutrient-deprived medium (NDM) and nutrient-rich medium (DMEM), to discover the compounds that show selective cytotoxicity in NDM. Screening of twenty-five Thai indigenous medicinal plant extracts for their anti-austerity activity against the PANC-1 human pancreatic cancer cell line in nutrient deprived medium (NDM) resulted in the identification of four active plants, Derris scandens, Boesenbergia pandurata, Citrus hystrix, and Kaempferia parviflora, with PC50 values 0.5–8.9 µg/mL. K. parviflora extract also inhibited PANC-1 cancer cell colony formation. Phytochemical investigation of K. parviflora extract led to the isolation of fourteen compounds, including two polyoxygenated cyclohexanes (1 and 2), eleven flavonoids (3–13), and β-sitosterol (14). Stereochemical assignment of compound 1 was confirmed through X-ray analysis. All isolated compounds were tested for their preferential cytotoxicity against PANC-1 cells. Among them, 5-hydroxy-7-methoxyflavone (3) displayed the most potent activity with a PC50 value of 0.8 µM. Mechanistically, it was found to induce apoptosis in PANC-1 cell death in NDM as evident by caspase cleavage. It was also found to inhibit PANC-1 cancer cell colony formation in DMEM. Therefore, compound 3 can be considered as a potential lead compound for the anticancer drug development based on the anti-austerity strategy.