Apigenin inhibits antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer cell growth through estrogen receptor-α-dependent and estrogen receptor-α-independent mechanisms

Xinghua Long, Meiyun Fan, Robert M. Bigsby, Kenneth P. Nephew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

63 Scopus citations


Breast cancer resistance to the antiestrogens tamoxifen (OHT) and fulvestrant is accompanied by alterations in both estrogen-dependent and estrogen-independent signaling pathways. Consequently, effective inhibition of both pathways may be necessary to block proliferation of antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer cells. In this study, we examined the effects of apigenin, a dietary plant flavonoid with potential anticancer properties, on estrogen-responsive, antiestrogen-sensitive MCF7 breast cancer cells and two MCF7 sublines with acquired resistance to either OHT or fulvestrant. We found that apigenin can function as both an estrogen and an antiestrogen in a dose-dependent manner. At low concentrations (1 μmol/L), apigenin stimulated MCF7 cell growth but had no effect on the antiestrogen-resistant MCF7 sublines. In contrast, at high concentrations (>10 μmol/L), the drug inhibited growth of MCF7 cells and the antiestrogen-resistant sublines, and the combination of apigenin with either OHT or fulvestrant showed synergistic, growth-inhibitory effects on both antiestrogen-sensitive and antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer cells. To further elucidate the molecular mechanism of apigenin as either an estrogen or an antiestrogen, effects of the drug on estrogen receptor-α (ERα); transactivation activity, mobility, stability, and ERα-coactivator interactions were investigated. Low-dose apigenin enhanced receptor transcriptional activity by promoting interaction between ERα and its coactivator amplified in breast cancer-1. However, higher doses (>10 μmol/L) of apigenin inhibited ERα mobility (as determined by fluorescence recovery after photobleaching assays), down-regulated ERα and amplified in breast cancer-1 expression levels, and inhibited multiple protein kinases, including p38, protein kinase A, mitogen-activated protein kinase, and AKT. Collectively, these results show that apigenin can function as both an antiestrogen and a protein kinase inhibitor with activity against breast cancer cells with acquired resistance to OHT or fulvestrant. We conclude that apigenin, through its ability to target both ERα-dependent and ERα-independent pathways, holds promise as a new therapeutic agent against antiestrogen-resistant breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2096-2108
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular cancer therapeutics
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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