Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Cytotoxic effects of Euterpe oleracea Mart. in malignant cell lines

Dulcelena Ferreira Silva1, Flávia Castello Branco Vidal12*, Debora Santos3, Maria Célia Pires Costa3, José Andrés Morgado-Díaz4, Maria do Desterro Soares Brandão Nascimento25 and Roberto Soares de Moura6

Author Affiliations

1 Morphology Department, Federal University of Maranhão, Rua Coelho Neto nº 311, Centro, São Luís, Maranhão 65020-140, Brazil

2 Tumors and DNA Bank from Maranhão, Federal University of Maranhão, Maranhão, Brazil

3 Biology and Chemistry Department, State University of Maranhão, Maranhão, Brazil

4 Structural Biology Laboratory, Cell Biology Division, National Cancer Institute José Alencar Gomes da Silva, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

5 Pathology Department, Federal University of Maranhão, Maranhão, Brazil

6 Laboratory of Pharmacology and Psychobiology, Pharmacology Department, State University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014, 14:175  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-175

Published: 29 May 2014



Euterpe oleracea Mart., a plant from the Amazon region, is commonly known as açaí or juçara; it has high nutritional value and elevated levels of lipids, proteins, and minerals. Açaí is an abundant and much consumed fruit by the Amazon local population, and studies have demonstrated that it is rich in phytochemicals with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer activities. Therefore, the aim of this study was to test this plant for anticancer activity in different human malignant cell lines.


Cell lines derived from breast and colorectal adenocarcinomas were treated with 10, 20, and 40 μg/mL of bark, seed, and total açaí fruit hydroalcoholic extracts for 24 and 48 h. After treatment, cell viability was measured using 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assays, and cell morphological features were observed by light and transmission electron microscopy. The type of cell death was also evaluated. The data were analyzed statistically by one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), followed by Dunnett’s or Tukey’s post hoc tests, as appropriate.


We observed that of all the cell lines tested, MCF-7 was the only line that responded to açaí treatment. The extracts caused significant reduction (p < 0.01) in cell viability and altered cell morphological features by inducing the appearance of autophagic vacuoles, as observed by transmission electron microscopy. Furthermore, increased expression of LC3BII, a protein marker of autophagosome formation, was observed by western blotting. Caspase Glo™ assays and morphologic observations by DAPI nuclear staining and transmission electron microscopy did not indicate any apoptotic events.


The present study demonstrated that açaí possesses antitumorigenic potential in the MCF-7 cell line. Further studies are needed to identify the compound (s) responsible for this cytotoxic activity and the molecular target in the cell. This discovery of the anticancer potential of açaí may help in the development of chemopreventive drugs and may have therapeutic effects in the treatment of breast cancer.

Anticancer; Euterpe oleracea mart.; MCF-7; Phytochemicals; Chemopreventive