Melittin: A Natural Peptide from Bee Venom Which Induces Apoptosis in Human Leukemia Cells

Thumyat Noe ’23

Figure 1. Melittin, a peptide found within honeybee venom, has the potential to treat leukemia.

Past research has shown that honeybee’s venom has the potential to treat various diseases such as arthritis, chronic pain, cancer, and atopic dermatitis. The venom mostly consists of peptides and low molecular weight compounds such as sugars and amino acids. Melittin is one of the peptides found within honeybee’s venom and possesses the most bioactive properties among all the compounds in the venom. Previous studies have suggested that bee venom’s ability to effectively treat diseases can be attributed to melittin. For example, in one study, melittin was found to have inhibited clonogenicity and the growth of leukemic cells in humans and mice. These findings have prompted researchers to extensively examine the mechanism of melittin-induced apoptosis in numerous cancer cells. In a study conducted at the University of Lodz in Poland, researchers evaluated the ability of melittin to induce apoptosis in leukemia cell lines of two different origins by confirming the apoptosis process of leukemic cells and verifying that melittin is entirely unharmful towards healthy peripheral blood mononuclear cells. 

Leukemia cell lines were obtained from the American Type Culture Collection and healthy peripheral blood mononuclear cells were from whole blood samples of healthy donors. Cells were initially grown in a humidified incubator at 37°C and 5% CO2, followed by incubation with melittin. The viability of cells treated with melittin were later evaluated by looking at the mitochondrial membrane potential and noting the presence of any apoptotic cells. Evaluation of cells showed that while melittin had no effect on normal peripheral mononuclear blood cells, characteristics of apoptotic process were observed in leukemia cell lines. 

For future research, researchers plan to analyze how melittin induces the apoptotic process in leukemic cells on a molecular level. While therapies for leukemia have improved in effectiveness throughout the years, the disease remains one of the most challenging types of cancers to treat successfully. Furthermore, chemotherapy is harmful towards some healthy cells and causes hair loss. However, in this study, melittin has no effect on healthy cells. Therefore, the results of the study are inspiring for the future of cancer research and treatments. 

Work(s) Cited:

[1] M. Ceremuga, et al., Melittin – A Natural Peptide from Bee Venom Which Induces Apoptosis in Human Leukaemia Cells. Biomolecules 10, 1-14 (2020). Doi: 10.3390/biom10020247. 

[2] Image retrieved from: https://unsplash.com/photos/Xy4_NTE-MHs

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