Silibinin upregulates the expression of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors and causes cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human colon carcinoma HT-29 cells

Oncogene. 2003 Nov 13;22(51):8271-82. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1207158.


Silymarin, a defined mixture of natural flavonoid, has recently been shown to have potent cancer chemopreventive efficacy against colon carcinogenesis in rat model; however, the mechanism of such efficacy is not elucidated. Here, using pure active agent in silymarin, namely silibinin, we show its antiproliferative and apoptotic effects, and associated molecular alterations in human colon carcinoma HT-29 cells. Silibinin treatment of cells at 50-100 microg/ml doses resulted in a moderate to very strong growth inhibition in a dose- and a time-dependent manner, which was largely due to a G0/G1 arrest in cell cycle progression; higher dose and longer treatment time also caused a G2/M arrest. In mechanistic studies related its effect on cell cycle progression, silibinin treatment resulted in an upregulation of Kip1/p27 and Cip1/p21 protein as well as mRNA levels, and decreased CDK2, CDK4, cyclin E and cyclin D1 protein levels together with an inhibition in CDK2 and CDK4 kinase activities. In other studies, we observed that G2/M arrest by silibinin was associated with a decrease in cdc25C, cdc2/p34 and cyclin B1 protein levels, as well as cdc2/p34 kinase activity. In the studies assessing biological fate of silibinin-treated cells, silibinin-induced cell cycle arrest and growth inhibition were not associated with cellular differentiation, but caused apoptotic death. The quantitative apoptosis analysis showed up to 15% apoptotic cell death after 48 h of silibinin treatment. Interestingly, silibinin-induced apoptosis in HT-29 cells was independent of caspases activation, as all caspases inhibitor did not reverse silibinin-induced apoptosis. This observation was further confirmed by the findings showing a lack in caspases activity increase and caspases and PARP cleavage as well as a lack in cytochrome c release in cytosol following silibinin treatment of HT-29 cells. Additional studies conducted in mice showed that silibinin doses found effective in HT-29 cells are achievable in plasma, which increases the significance of the present findings and their possible translation in in vivo anticancer efficacy of silibinin against colon cancer. Together, these results identify molecular mechanisms of silibinin efficacy as a cell cycle regulator and apoptosis inducer in human colon carcinoma HT-29 cells, and justify further studies to investigate potential usefulness of this nontoxic agent in colon cancer prevention and intervention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects*
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p27
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Cyclins / genetics
  • Cyclins / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / metabolism*
  • HT29 Cells
  • Humans
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Silybin
  • Silymarin / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism


  • CDKN1A protein, human
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Cyclins
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Silymarin
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p27
  • Silybin
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases