Withaferin A (WA) is derived from the medicinal plant Withania somnifera which has been safely used for centuries in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for treatment of different ailments. We now demonstrate, for the first time, that WA exhibits significant activity against human breast cancer cells in culture and in vivo. The WA treatment decreased viability of MCF-7 (estrogen-responsive) and MDA-MB-231 (estrogen-independent) human breast cancer cells in a concentration-dependent manner. The WA-mediated suppression of breast cancer cell viability correlated with apoptosis induction characterized by DNA condensation, cytoplasmic histone-associated DNA fragmentation, and cleavage of poly-(ADP-ribose)-polymerase. On the other hand, a spontaneously immortalized normal mammary epithelial cell line (MCF-10A) was relatively more resistant to WA-induced apoptosis compared with breast cancer cells. The WA-mediated apoptosis was accompanied by induction of Bim-s and Bim-L in MCF-7 cells and induction of Bim-s and Bim-EL isoforms in MDA-MB-231 cells. The cytoplasmic histone-associated DNA fragmentation resulting from WA exposure was significantly attenuated by knockdown of protein levels of Bim and its transcriptional regulator FOXO3a in both cell lines. Moreover, FOXO3a knockdown conferred marked protection against WA-mediated induction of Bim-s expression. The growth of MDA-MB-231 cells implanted in female nude mice was significantly retarded by five weekly i.p. injections of 4 mg WA/kg body weight. The tumors from WA-treated mice exhibited reduced cell proliferation and increased apoptosis compared with tumors from control mice. These results point towards an important role of FOXO3a and Bim in regulation of WA-mediated apoptosis in human breast cancer cells.
Keywords: Withaferin A, FOXO3a, Bim, Apoptosis, Breast Cancer, Chemoprevention