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Open Access Research article

1,1-Bis(3'-indolyl)-1-(p-substituted phenyl)methanes induce autophagic cell death in estrogen receptor negative breast cancer

Kathy Vanderlaag1, Yunpeng Su2, Arthur E Frankel2, Robert C Burghardt3*, Rola Barhoumi3, Gayathri Chadalapaka1, Indira Jutooru1 and Stephen Safe14*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4466, USA

2 Cancer Research Institute, Scott and White Memorial Hospital, Temple, TX 76502, USA

3 Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4458, USA

4 Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Texas A&M Health Science Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA

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BMC Cancer 2010, 10:669  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-10-669

Published: 3 December 2010

Abstract

Background

A novel series of methylene-substituted DIMs (C-DIMs), namely 1,1-bis(3'-indolyl)-1-(p-substituted phenyl)methanes containing t-butyl (DIM-C-pPhtBu) and phenyl (DIM-C-pPhC6H5) groups inhibit proliferation of invasive estrogen receptor-negative MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-453 human breast cancer cell lines with IC50 values between 1-5 uM. The main purpose of this study was to investigate the pathways of C-DIM-induced cell death.

Methods

The effects of the C-DIMs on apoptotic, necrotic and autophagic cell death were determined using caspase inhibitors, measurement of lactate dehydrogenase release, and several markers of autophagy including Beclin and light chain associated protein 3 expression (LC3).

Results

The C-DIM compounds did not induce apoptosis and only DIM-C-pPhCF3 exhibited necrotic effects. However, treatment of MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-453 cells with C-DIMs resulted in accumulation of LC3-II compared to LC3-I protein, a characteristic marker of autophagy, and transient transfection of green fluorescent protein-LC3 also revealed that treatment with C-DIMs induced a redistribution of LC3 to autophagosomes after C-DIM treatment. In addition, the autofluorescent drug monodansylcadaverine (MDC), a specific autophagolysosome marker, accumulated in vacuoles after C-DIM treatment, and western blot analysis of lysates from cells treated with C-DIMs showed that the Beclin 1/Bcl-2 protein ratio increased.

Conclusion

The results suggest that C-DIM compounds may represent a new mechanism-based agent for treating drug-resistant ER-negative breast tumors through induction of autophagy.