Repression of mammosphere formation of human breast cancer cells by soy isoflavone genistein and blueberry polyphenolic acids suggests diet-mediated targeting of cancer stem-like/progenitor cells

Carcinogenesis. 2012 Mar;33(3):652-60. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgr317. Epub 2012 Jan 4.


Mammary stem cells are undifferentiated epithelial cells, which initiate mammary tumors and render them resistant to anticancer therapies, when deregulated. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are implicated in breast cancer risk reduction, yet underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Here, we addressed whether dietary factors selectively target mammary epithelial cells that display stem-like/progenitor subpopulations with previously recognized tumor-initiating potential. Using estrogen receptor-positive MCF-7 and estrogen receptor-negative MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cell lines and freshly isolated epithelial cells from MMTV-Wnt-1 transgenic mouse mammary tumors, we demonstrate that sera of adult mice consuming soy isoflavone genistein (GEN) or blueberry (BB) polyphenol-containing diets alter the population of stem-like/progenitor cells, as measured by their functional ability to self-renew and form anchorage-independent spheroid cultures in vitro at low frequency (1-2%). Serum effects on mammosphere formation were dose-dependently replicated by GEN (40 nM >2 μM) and targeted the basal stem-like CD44+/CD24-/ESA+ and the luminal progenitor CD24+ subpopulations in MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 cells. GEN inhibition of mammosphere formation was mimicked by the Akt inhibitor perifosine and was associated with enhanced tumor suppressor phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome ten (PTEN) expression. In contrast, a selected mixture of BB phenolic acids was only active in MDA-MD-231 cells and its CD44+/CD24-/ESA+ subpopulation, and this activity was independent of induction of PTEN expression. These findings delineate a novel and selective function of distinct dietary factors in targeting stem/progenitor cell populations in estrogen receptor-dependent and -independent breast cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blueberry Plants*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • CD24 Antigen / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Genistein / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronan Receptors / metabolism
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Mice
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Phosphorylcholine / analogs & derivatives
  • Phosphorylcholine / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Polyphenols / chemistry
  • Polyphenols / pharmacology
  • Soybean Proteins / pharmacology


  • CD24 Antigen
  • Hyaluronan Receptors
  • Isoflavones
  • Plant Extracts
  • Polyphenols
  • Soybean Proteins
  • Phosphorylcholine
  • perifosine
  • Genistein
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase