Synergistic cytotoxic effects of tamoxifen and black cohosh on MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells: an in vitro study

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2007 Nov;85(11):1153-9. doi: 10.1139/Y07-111.


Breast cancer cell cultures were exposed to different concentrations of black cohosh, estradiol (E2), and tamoxifen to examine the effect on cell proliferation; cytotoxicity was assessed by using sulforhodamine B (SRB) dye solution. E2 (10(-10) - 10(-8) mol/L) markedly stimulated the proliferation of MCF-7 cells (p < 0.01). Tamoxifen stimulated MCF-7 cell proliferation at 10(-6) mol/L and 10(-5) mol/L (p < 0.005) but inhibited in a dose-dependent fashion the proliferative effect of E2 (p < 0.001). Black cohosh alone did not show any stimulatory effect, but exhibited a cytotoxic effect, which was significant at 10(3) microg/mL (p < 0.001). Adding black cohosh at 10(0)-10(3) microg/mL to E2 at 10(-9) mol/L also resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of E2 proliferative effect. Interestingly, the combination of black cohosh (10(0)-10(3) microg/mL) with increasing tamoxifen concentrations further inhibited MCF-7 cell growth. On MDA-MB-231 cells, neither E2 nor tamoxifen displayed any detectable effect. However, black cohosh inhibited MDA-MB-231 cell proliferation at 10(3) microg/mL (p < 0.05), and this inhibitory effect was enhanced by increasing tamoxifen concentrations. This study reveals a cytotoxic effect of black cohosh on both estrogen-sensitive and estrogen-insensitive breast cancer cells and a synergism with tamoxifen for inhibition of cancerous cell growth.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cimicifuga*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Synergism
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology*


  • Tamoxifen
  • Estradiol