Dietary flavonoid fisetin targets caspase-3-deficient human breast cancer MCF-7 cells by induction of caspase-7-associated apoptosis and inhibition of autophagy

Int J Oncol. 2012 Feb;40(2):469-78. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2011.1203. Epub 2011 Sep 15.


The outcome of producing apoptotic defects in cancer cells is the primary obstacle that limits the therapeutic efficacy of anticancer agents, and hence the development of novel agents targeting novel non-canonical cell death pathways has become an imperative mission for clinical research. Fisetin (3,3',4',7-tetrahydroxyflavone) is a naturally occurring flavonoid commonly found in fruits and vegetables. In this study, we investigated the potential anticancer effects of fisetin on breast cancer cells. The result showed fisetin induced higher cytotoxicity in human breast cancer MCF-7 than in MDA-MB-231 cells otherwise it did not exert any detectable cytotoxicity in non-tumorigenic MCF-10A cells. We found fisetin can trigger a novel form of atypical apoptosis in caspase-3-deficient MCF-7 cells, which was characterized by several apoptotic features, including plasma membrane rupture, mitochondrial depolarization, activation of caspase-7, -8 and -9, and PARP cleavage; however, neither DNA fragmentation and phosphotidylserine (PS) externalization was observed. Although p53 was also activated by fisetin, the fisetin-induced apoptosis was not rescued by the p53 inhibitor pifithrin-α. In contrast, the fisetin-induced apoptosis was abrogated by pan-caspase inhibitor z-VAD-fmk. Furthermore, inhibition of autophagy by fisetin was shown as additional route to prompt anticancer activity in MCF-7 cells. These data allow us to propose that fisetin appears as a new potential anticancer agent which can be applied to develop a clinical protocol of human breast cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Caspase 3 / deficiency*
  • Caspase 7 / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Female
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Flavonols
  • Humans
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Flavonoids
  • Flavonols
  • PARP1 protein, human
  • Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase-1
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • CASP7 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase 7
  • fisetin