Background: The effects of the olive oil-rich Mediterranean diet on breast cancer risk might be underestimated when HER2 (ERBB2) oncogene-positive and HER2-negative breast carcinomas are considered together. We here investigated the anti-HER2 effects of phenolic fractions directly extracted from Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) in cultured human breast cancer cell lines.
Methods: Solid phase extraction followed by semi-preparative high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) was used to isolate phenolic fractions from commercial EVOO. Analytical capillary electrophoresis coupled to mass spectrometry was performed to check for the composition and to confirm the identity of the isolated fractions. EVOO polyphenolic fractions were tested on their tumoricidal ability against HER2-negative and HER2-positive breast cancer in vitro models using MTT, crystal violet staining, and Cell Death ELISA assays. The effects of EVOO polyphenolic fractions on the expression and activation status of HER2 oncoprotein were evaluated using HER2-specific ELISAs and immunoblotting procedures, respectively.
Results: Among the fractions mainly containing the single phenols hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol, the polyphenol acid elenolic acid, the lignans (+)-pinoresinol and 1-(+)-acetoxypinoresinol, and the secoiridoids deacetoxy oleuropein aglycone, ligstroside aglycone, and oleuropein aglycone, all the major EVOO polyphenols (i.e. secoiridoids and lignans) were found to induce strong tumoricidal effects within a micromolar range by selectively triggering high levels of apoptotic cell death in HER2-overexpressors. Small interfering RNA-induced depletion of HER2 protein and lapatinib-induced blockade of HER2 tyrosine kinase activity both significantly prevented EVOO polyphenols-induced cytotoxicity. EVOO polyphenols drastically depleted HER2 protein and reduced HER2 tyrosine autophosphorylation in a dose- and time-dependent manner. EVOO polyphenols-induced HER2 downregulation occurred regardless the molecular mechanism contributing to HER2 overexpression (i.e. naturally by gene amplification and ectopically driven by a viral promoter). Pre-treatment with the proteasome inhibitor MG132 prevented EVOO polyphenols-induced HER2 depletion.
Conclusion: The ability of EVOO-derived polyphenols to inhibit HER2 activity by promoting the proteasomal degradation of the HER2 protein itself, together with the fact that humans have safely been ingesting secoiridoids and lignans as long as they have been consuming olives and OO, support the notion that the stereochemistry of these phytochemicals might provide an excellent and safe platform for the design of new HER2-targeting agents.