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Open Access Research article

The chalcone butein from Rhus verniciflua Stokes inhibits clonogenic growth of human breast cancer cells co-cultured with fibroblasts

Michael Samoszuk1*, Jenny Tan1 and Guillaume Chorn2

Author Affiliations

1 Pathology Department, University of California, Irvine Medical Center, Building 10 Route 40, 101 The City Drive, Orange, CA 92868 USA

2 Biology Department, Stanford University, Stanford, CA USA

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2005, 5:5  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-5-5

Published: 9 March 2005

Abstract

Background

Butein (3,4,2',4'-tetrahydroxychalone), a plant polyphenol, is a major biologically active component of the stems of Rhus verniciflua Stokes. It has long been used as a food additive in Korea and as an herbal medicine throughout Asia. Recently, butein has been shown to suppress the functions of fibroblasts. Because fibroblasts are believed to play an important role in promoting the growth of breast cancer cells, we investigated the ability of butein to inhibit the clonogenic growth of small numbers of breast cancer cells co-cultured with fibroblasts in vitro.

Methods

We first measured the clonogenic growth of small numbers of the UACC-812 human breast cancer cell line co-cultured on monolayers of serum-activated, human fibroblasts in the presence of butein (2 μg/mL) or various other modulators of fibroblast function (troglitazone-1 μg/mL; GW9662-1 μM; meloxican-1 μM; and 3,4 dehydroproline-10 μg/mL). In a subsequent experiment, we measured the dose-response effect on the clonogenic growth of UACC-812 breast cancer cells by pre-incubating the fibroblasts with varying concentrations of butein (10 μg/ml-1.25 μg/mL). Finally, we measured the clonogenic growth of primary breast cancer cells obtained from 5 clinical specimens with normal fibroblasts and with fibroblasts that had been pre-treated with a fixed dose of butein (2.5 μg/mL).

Results

Of the five modulators of fibroblast function that we tested, butein was by far the most potent inhibitor of clonogenic growth of UACC-812 breast cancer cells co-cultured with fibroblasts. Pre-treatment of fibroblasts with concentrations of butein as low as 2.5 μg/mL nearly abolished subsequent clonogenic growth of UACC-812 breast cancer cells co-cultured with the fibroblasts. A similar dose of butein had no effect on the clonogenic growth of breast cancer cells cultured in the absence of fibroblasts. Significantly, clonogenic growth of the primary breast cancer cells was also significantly reduced or abolished when the tumor cells were co-cultured with fibroblasts that had been pre-treated with a fixed dose of butein.

Conclusion

We conclude that fibroblasts pre-treated with non-toxic doses of butein (a natural herbal compound) no longer support the clonogenic growth of small numbers of primary breast cancer cells seeded into co-cultures. These results suggest that interference with the interaction between fibroblasts and breast cancer cells by the natural herbal compound, butein, should be further investigated as a novel experimental approach for possibly suppressing the growth of micrometastases of breast cancer.