Plumbagin-induced apoptosis of human breast cancer cells is mediated by inactivation of NF-kappaB and Bcl-2

J Cell Biochem. 2008 Dec 15;105(6):1461-71. doi: 10.1002/jcb.21966.


Breast cancer remains the major cause of cancer-related deaths in women world-wide. The heterogeneity of breast cancer has further complicated the progress of target-based therapies. Triple negative breast cancers, lacking estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and the Her-2/neu (ErbB2), represent a highly aggressive breast cancer subtype, that are difficult to treat. Pleiotropic agents, such as those found in nature, can target receptor-positive as well as receptor-negative cancer cells, suggesting that such agents could have significant impact in breast cancer prevention and/or therapy. Plumbagin (5-hydroxy-2-methyl-1, 4-naphthoquinone) is one such agent which has anti-tumor activity against several cancers. However, its mechanism of action against breast cancer is not clearly understood. We hypothesized that plumbagin may act as an effective agent against breast cancer especially triple negative breast cancer. We tested our hypothesis using ER-positive MCF-7 and ER-negative MDA-MB-231 (triple negative) breast cancer cells, and we found that plumbagin significantly inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells with no effect on normal breast epithelial cells. We also found that plumbagin induces apoptosis with concomitant inactivation of Bcl-2 and the DNA binding activity of NF-kappaB. Bcl-2 over-expression resulted in attenuation of plumbagin-induced effects, suggesting that the inhibition of cell growth and induction of apoptosis by plumbagin is in part due to inactivation of NF-kappaB/Bcl-2 pathway. To our knowledge, this is the first report, showing mechanistic and cancer cell specific apoptosis-inducing effects of plumbagin in breast cancer cells, suggesting the potential role of plumbagin in the prevention and/or treatment of breast cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis*
  • Autophagy
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival
  • Female
  • Humans
  • NF-kappa B / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Naphthoquinones / pharmacology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • NF-kappa B
  • Naphthoquinones
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • plumbagin