Relevance of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities of exemestane and synergism with sulforaphane for disease prevention

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Nov 19;110(47):19065-70. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318247110. Epub 2013 Nov 4.


Exemestane (6-methyleneandrosta-1,4-diene-3,17-dione) is a synthetic steroidal inhibitor of the aromatase reaction that catalyzes the terminal and rate-limiting step of the biosynthesis of estrogens. It is active clinically in preventing, delaying progression of, and treating mammary cancers, many of which are estrogen receptor-positive. A striking feature of the structure of exemestane is an extended system of conjugated Michael reaction functions, which is also characteristic of inducers of a broad network of chemoprotective genes regulated by the Keap1 (Kelch-like ECA-associated protein)/Nrf2 (nuclear factor E2-related factor 2)/ARE (antioxidant response element) signaling system. These genes are largely involved in xenobiotic metabolism and antioxidative and anti-inflammatory protection, as well as the synthesis and reduction of glutathione. We show here that exemestane transcriptionally activates NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) and heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1), typical chemoprotective gene products, in a wide variety of mouse, rat, and human cells. It protects several cell lines against oxidative toxicity of tert-butyl hydroperoxide and 4-hydroxynonenal, against free radical damage arising from hypoxia-reoxygenation, and against UVA radiation damage. Exemestane also inhibits the inflammatory increases in inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) in mouse macrophages exposed to LPS (lipopolysaccharide), thereby resembling the isothiocyanate sulforaphane derived from broccoli. Remarkably, combinations of exemestane and sulforaphane act highly synergistically, and this property is also displayed by several other phytochemicals. Thus, exemestane has a wide range of previously unrecognized protective activities, probably unrelated to aromatase inhibition. Its potential for reducing the risk, not only of breast cancer, but also of other chronic diseases that arise from inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA-damaging electrophiles, requires exploration, particularly in view of the synergism with other phytochemicals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Androstadienes / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line
  • Chronic Disease / prevention & control*
  • Cytoprotection / drug effects*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Humans
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology
  • Luciferases
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Rats
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sulfoxides


  • Androstadienes
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Isothiocyanates
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Nfe2l2 protein, mouse
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Sulfoxides
  • Luciferases
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nos2 protein, mouse
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone)
  • Nqo1 protein, mouse
  • sulforaphane
  • exemestane