Translocation of Bax to mitochondria induces apoptotic cell death in indole-3-carbinol (I3C) treated breast cancer cells

Oncogene. 2000 Nov 23;19(50):5764-71. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1203959.


Epidemiological studies have suggested that the consumption of fruits and vegetables that provide several classes of compounds, including Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), may have chemopreventive activity against breast cancer. Several in vitro and in vivo animal studies also provide convincing evidence for the anti-tumor activity of I3C, however, the molecular mechanism(s) by which I3C exerts its biological effects on breast cancer cells has not been fully elucidated. In this study, we investigated the effects of I3C in Her-2/neu over-expressing MDA-MB-435 breast cancer cells and compared these results with parental cells transfected with control vector. We focused our investigation in elucidating the molecular mechanism(s) by which I3C induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells. Our data show that I3C inhibits breast cancer cell growth in a dose dependent manner in Her-2/neu over-expressing and in normal Her-2/neu expressing cells. Induction of apoptosis was also observed in these cell lines when treated with I3C, as measured by poly (ADPribose) polymerase (PARP) and caspase-3 activation. In addition, we found that I3C up-regulates Bax, down-regulates Bcl-2 and, thereby, increased the ratio of Bax to Bcl-2 favoring apoptosis. These results suggest that the alteration in the expression of these genes may play an important role in mediating the biological effects of I3C. Moreover, we also show the cellular localization of Bax by confocal microscopy, which showed diffuse distribution of Bax throughout the cytoplasmic compartment in breast cancer cells in control culture. However, in I3C treated cells, Bax showed a punctate pattern of distribution that was localized in the mitochondria. From these results, we conclude that the over-expression and translocation of Bax to mitochondria causes mitochondrial depolarization and activation of caspases, which may be one of the mechanism(s) by which I3C induces apoptotic processes in I3C treated breast cancer cells. Overall, our present data provide a novel molecular mechanism(s) by which I3C elicits its biological effects on both Her-2/neu over-expressing and with normal Her-2/neu expressing breast cancer cells, suggesting that I3C could be an effective agent in inducing apoptosis in breast cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Growth Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Intracellular Membranes / drug effects
  • Intracellular Membranes / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / biosynthesis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / biosynthesis
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics
  • Transfection
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • BAX protein, human
  • Growth Inhibitors
  • Indoles
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • indole-3-carbinol
  • Receptor, ErbB-2