Inhibitory effects of digitalis on the proliferation of androgen dependent and independent prostate cancer cells

J Urol. 2001 Nov;166(5):1937-42.


Purpose: Digitalis or cardiac glycosides have been noted to induce tumor static or oncolytic effects in various types of cancer. We evaluated the effects and underlying mechanisms of cardiac glycosides, including digoxin, digitoxin and ouabain, on the proliferation of hormone dependent and independent prostate cancer cell lines.

Materials and methods: Cell proliferation of the 3 human prostate cancer cell lines LNCaP, DU145 and PC3 was measured by 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yle)2,5-diphenyltetralozium bromide (Sigma Chemical Co., St. Louis, Missouri) colorimetric assay. The cytotoxic effects of digitalis on prostate cancer cells were determined by lactate dehydrogenase measurements of the culture medium. Intracellular Ca2+ was measured by a dual wavelength spectrometer system. The percent of apoptotic cells after digitalis treatment was measured by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick end-labeling and flow cytometry.

Results: Digoxin, digitoxin and ouabain significantly inhibited the proliferation of LNCaP, DU145 and PC3 cells at a dose of 1 or 10 microM. after 1 to 4 days of culture. Cytotoxicity of digitalis on the DU145 and LNCaP cells was dose dependent but cytotoxicity was not obvious in PC3. Digitalis (1 microM.) significantly increased intracellular Ca2+ in LNCaP and DU145 after 12 hours of culture but PC3 cells needed a 24-hour treatment to show any effect. In the apoptosis measurement digitalis at a dose of 1 and 10 microM. also significantly increased the percent of apoptotic cells in the LNCaP, DU145 and PC3 cell lines. Normal control human glomerular epithelial cells showed no response to digitalis treatment at all tested doses.

Conclusions: Digitalis may inhibit the proliferation of prostate cancer cell lines, although the 3 cell lines showed varied sensitivity to digitalis. These effects are possibly the result of a mechanism involving sustained elevation of the concentration of intracellular Ca2+ and of apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Colorimetry
  • Digitalis Glycosides / pharmacology*
  • Digitalis Glycosides / therapeutic use
  • Digitoxin / pharmacology
  • Digitoxin / therapeutic use
  • Digoxin / pharmacology
  • Digoxin / therapeutic use
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ouabain / pharmacology
  • Ouabain / therapeutic use
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Digitalis Glycosides
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Ouabain
  • Digoxin
  • Digitoxin