Inhibition of human carcinoma cell growth and DNA synthesis by silibinin, an active constituent of milk thistle: comparison with silymarin

Cancer Lett. 1999 Dec 1;147(1-2):77-84. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3835(99)00276-1.


Several studies from our laboratory have shown the cancer chemopreventive and anti-carcinogenic effects of silymarin, a flavonoid antioxidant isolated from milk thistle, in long-term tumorigenesis models and in human prostate, breast and cervical carcinoma cells. Since silymarin is composed mainly of silibinin with small amounts of other stereoisomers of silibinin, in the present communication, studies were performed to assess whether the cancer preventive and anti-carcinogenic effects of silymarin are due to its major component silibinin. Treatment of different prostate, breast, and cervical human carcinoma cells with silibinin resulted in a highly significant inhibition of both cell growth and DNA synthesis in a time-dependent manner with large loss of cell viability only in case of cervical carcinoma cells. When compared with silymarin, these effects of silibinin were consistent and comparable in terms of cell growth and DNA synthesis inhibition, and loss of cell viability. Based on the comparable results of silibinin and silymarin, we suggest that the cancer chemopreventive and anti-carcinogenic effects of silymarin reported earlier are due to the main constituent silibinin.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Carcinoma / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma / genetics
  • Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • DNA, Neoplasm / biosynthesis
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nucleic Acid Synthesis Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Nucleic Acid Synthesis Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Silymarin / pharmacology*
  • Silymarin / therapeutic use
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Stem Cell Assay
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / genetics
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Nucleic Acid Synthesis Inhibitors
  • Silymarin