Silibinin strongly synergizes human prostate carcinoma DU145 cells to doxorubicin-induced growth Inhibition, G2-M arrest, and apoptosis

Clin Cancer Res. 2002 Nov;8(11):3512-9.


Purpose: We recently demonstrated the strong anticancer efficacy of silibinin,an active constituent of a widely consumed dietary supplement milk thistle extract, against human prostate cancer cells in culture and nude mice xenografts. We also observed that pharmacologically achievable concentrations of silibinin in animal studies were in the range of 25-100 microM, depending on the dose regimen, which did not show any apparent toxicity to the animals. In this study, we assessed whether silibinin synergizes the therapeutic potential of the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin against prostate cancer, the effectiveness of which is limited because of high systemic toxicity.

Experimental design: Prostate cancer cells were treated with silibinin and doxorubicin, either alone or in combination, and cell growth was determined by manual cell counting. Cell cycle progression was assessed by saponin/propidium iodide staining and fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis. Protein levels of cell cycle regulators were determined by Western blotting, and cdc2/p34 kinase activity was analyzed by in-beads kinase assay. Apoptosis was quantified by annexin V/propidium iodide staining and fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis.

Results: Silibinin strongly synergized the growth-inhibitory effect of doxorubicin in prostate carcinoma DU145 cells (combination index, 0.235-0.587), which was associated with a strong G(2)-M arrest in cell cycle progression, showing 88% cells in G2-M phase by this combination compared with 19 and 41% of cells in silibinin and doxorubicin treatment alone, respectively. The underlying mechanism of G2-M arrest showed a strong inhibitory effect of combination on cdc25C, cdc2/p34, and cyclin B1 protein expression and cdc2/p34 kinase activity. More importantly, this combination caused 41% apoptotic cell death compared with 15% by either agent alone. Silibinin and doxorubicin alone as well as in combination were also effective in inhibiting the growth of androgen-dependent prostate carcinoma LNCaP cells.

Conclusion: These findings suggest a need for in vivo studies with this combination in preclinical prostate cancer models. Positive outcomes might be relevant for a clinical application in prostate cancer patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Annexin A5 / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis*
  • Blotting, Western
  • CDC2 Protein Kinase / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Separation
  • Disease Progression
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • G2 Phase
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mitosis
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Silybin
  • Silymarin / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Annexin A5
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Silymarin
  • Silybin
  • Doxorubicin
  • CDC2 Protein Kinase