Estrogen and estrogen receptor (ER)-mediated signaling are crucial for the etiology and progression of human breast cancer. Attenuating ER activities by natural products is a promising strategy to decrease breast cancer risk. We recently discovered that the pyranocoumarin compound decursin and its isomer decursinol angelate (DA) have potent novel antiandrogen receptor signaling activities. Because the ER and the androgen receptor belong to the steroid receptor superfamily, we examined whether these compounds affected ER expression and signaling in breast cancer cells.
We treated estrogen-dependent MCF-7 and estrogen-independent MDA MB-231 human breast cancer cells with decursin and DA, and examined cell growth, apoptosis, and ERα and ERβ expression in both cell lines – and, in particular, estrogen-stimulated signaling in the MCF-7 cells. We compared these compounds with decursinol to determine their structure-activity relationship.
Decursin and DA exerted growth inhibitory effects on MCF-7 cells through G1 arrest and caspase-mediated apoptosis. These compounds decreased ERα in MCF-7 cells at both mRNA and protein levels, and suppressed estrogen-stimulated genes. Decursin and the pure antiestrogen Faslodex™ exerted an additive growth inhibitory effect on MCF-7 cells. In MDA MB-231 cells, these compounds induced cell-cycle arrests in the G1 and G2 phases as well as inducing apoptosis, accompanied by an increased expression of ERβ. In contrast, decursinol, which lacks the side chain of decursin and DA, did not have these cellular and molecular activities at comparable concentrations.
The side chain of decursin and DA is crucial for their anti-ER signaling and breast cancer growth inhibitory activities. These data provide mechanistic rationales for validating the chemopreventive and therapeutic efficacy of decursin and its derivatives in preclinical animal models of breast cancer.