Background: Mammalian forkhead members of the class O (FOXO) transcription factors, including FOXO1, FOXO3a, and FOXO4, are implicated in the regulation of several biological processes, including the stress resistance, metabolism, cell cycle, apoptosis and DNA repair. The objectives of this study were to examine the molecular mechanisms by which FOXO transcription factors induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis and enhanced anti-proliferative effects of sulforaphane (SFN, an active compound in cruciferous vegetables) in pancreatic cancer cells.
Results: Our data demonstrated that SFN inhibited cell proliferation and colony formation, and induced apoptosis through caspase-3 activation in pancreatic cancer cells. The inhibition of PI3K/AKT and MEK/ERK pathways activated FOXO transcription factors. SFN inhibited phosphorylation of AKT and ERK, and activated FOXO transcription factors, leading to cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Phosphorylation deficient mutants of FOXO proteins enhanced FOXO transcriptional activity, and further enhanced SFN-induced FOXO activity and apoptosis. SFN induced the expression of p21/CIP1 and p27/KIP1, and inhibited the expression of cyclin D1.
Conclusion: These data suggest that inhibition of PI3K/AKT and ERK pathways acts together to activate FOXO transcription factor and enhances SFN-induced FOXO transcriptional activity, leading to cell cycle arrest and apoptosis.