Pineapple bromelain induces autophagy, facilitating apoptotic response in mammary carcinoma cells

Biofactors. 2010 Nov-Dec;36(6):474-82. doi: 10.1002/biof.121. Epub 2010 Sep 16.


Bromelain, from pineapple, possesses potent anticancer effects. We investigated autophagic phenomenon in mammary carcinoma cells (estrogen receptor positive and negative) under bromelain treatment and also illustrated the relationship between autophagy and apoptosis in MCF-7 cells. MCF-7 cells exposed to bromelain showed delayed growth inhibitory response and induction of autophagy, identified by monodansylcadaverine localization. It was succeeded by apoptotic cell death, evident by sub-G1 cell fraction and apoptotic features like chromatin condensation and nuclear cleavage. 3-Methyladenine (MA, autophagy inhibitor) pretreatment reduced the bromelain-induced autophagic level, also leading to decline in apoptotic population, indicating that here autophagy facilitates apoptosis. However, addition of caspase-9 inhibitor Z-LEHD-FMK augmented the autophagy levels, inhibited morphological apoptosis but did not prevent cell death. Next, we found that bromelain downregulated the phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase ½ (ERK½), whereas that of c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 kinase were upregulated. Also, MA had no influence on bromelain-suppressed ERK½ activation, yet, it downregulated JNK and p38 activation. Also, addition of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) inhibitors enhanced the autophagic ratios, which suggested the role of MAP kinases in bromelain-induced autophagy. All three MAPKs were seen to be constantly activated over the time. Bromelain was seen to induce the expressions of autophagy-related proteins, light chain 3 protein B II (LC3BII), and beclin-1. Using ERK½ inhibitor, expressions of LC3BII and beclin-1 increased, whereas p38 and JNK inhibitors decreased this protein expression, indicating that bromelain-induced autophagy was positively regulated by p38 and JNK but negatively regulated by ERK½. Autophagy-inducing property of bromelain can be further exploited in breast cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Adenine / pharmacology
  • Ananas / chemistry
  • Apoptosis* / drug effects
  • Autophagy* / drug effects
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Bromelains* / metabolism
  • Bromelains* / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / metabolism*
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*


  • 3-methyladenine
  • Bromelains
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Adenine