Selective estrogen receptor modulators represent accepted therapy for estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer, exhibit adverse side effects, and reduce patient compliance. The use of phytoestrogen containing herbal medicines is limited because of efficacy and safety concerns. The ER+ MCF-7 model examined growth inhibitory effects of the medicinal herb Lycium barbarum (LB) and identified mechanistic leads for its efficacy. The MCF-7 cells maintained in 0.7% serum (17beta-estradiol, E2 < 1 nM) exhibited 11%-87% increased growth after treatment with 1nM to 20 nM E2. Growth promotion with 20 nM E2 exhibited 5.2-fold increased estrone (E1), 35.7% increased 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1), 15.4% increased 16alpha-hydroxyestrone (16alpha-OHE1), and eightfold increased estriol (E3) formation. Treatment of E2 stimulated cells with LB exhibited a dose-dependent growth inhibition of 9.5%-42.8% at Day 3 and 33.9%-83.9% at Day 7. The 3-day inhibitory response to 1% LB (maximum cytostatic concentration) exhibited 84.8% increased E1, 3.6-fold increased 2-OHE1, 33.3% decreased 16alpha-OHE1, and 9.2-fold increased E3 formation. Thus, MCF-7 cells retain their mitogenic and metabolic response to E2 and LB downregulates E2-stimulated growth via the formation of antiproliferative 2-OHE1 and accelerated conversion of mitogenic 16alpha-OHE1 to antimitogenic E3.
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