Apigenin induces apoptosis and blocks growth of medroxyprogesterone acetate-dependent BT-474 xenograft tumors

Horm Cancer. 2012 Aug;3(4):160-71. doi: 10.1007/s12672-012-0114-x. Epub 2012 May 9.


Recent clinical and epidemiological evidence shows that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) containing both estrogen and progestin increases the risk of primary and metastatic breast cancer in post-menopausal women while HRT containing only estrogen does not. We and others previously showed that progestins promote the growth of human breast cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. In this study, we sought to determine whether apigenin, a low molecular weight anti-carcinogenic flavonoid, inhibits the growth of aggressive Her2/neu-positive BT-474 xenograft tumors in nude mice exposed to medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), the most commonly used progestin in the USA. Our data clearly show that apigenin (50 mg/kg) inhibits progression and development of these xenograft tumors by inducing apoptosis, inhibiting cell proliferation, and reducing expression of Her2/neu. Moreover, apigenin reduced levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) without altering blood vessel density, indicating that continued expression of VEGF may be required to promote tumor cell survival and maintain blood flow. While previous studies showed that MPA induces receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa-B ligand (RANKL) expression in rodent mammary gland, MPA reduced levels of RANKL in human tumor xenografts. RANKL levels remained suppressed in the presence of apigenin. Exposure of BT-474 cells to MPA in vitro also resulted in lower levels of RANKL; an effect that was independent of progesterone receptors since it occurred both in the presence and absence of the antiprogestin RU-486. In contrast to our in vivo observations, apigenin protected against MPA-dependent RANKL loss in vitro, suggesting that MPA and apigenin modulate RANKL levels differently in breast cancer cells in vivo and in vitro. These preclinical findings suggest that apigenin has potential as an agent for the treatment of progestin-dependent breast disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apigenin / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Growth Processes / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / pathology
  • Postmenopause
  • Progesterone Congeners / pharmacology*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Progesterone Congeners
  • Apigenin
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate