Withaferin A inhibits experimental epithelial-mesenchymal transition in MCF-10A cells and suppresses vimentin protein level in vivo in breast tumors

Mol Carcinog. 2015 Jun;54(6):417-29. doi: 10.1002/mc.22110. Epub 2013 Nov 30.


We have shown previously that withaferin A (WA), a bioactive component of the medicinal plant Withania somnifera, inhibits growth of cultured and xenografted human breast cancer cells and prevents breast cancer development and pulmonary metastasis incidence in a transgenic mouse model. The present study was undertaken to determine if the anticancer effect of WA involved inhibition of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Experimental EMT induced by exposure of MCF-10A cells to tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β) was partially reversed by treatment with WA but not by its structural analogs withanone or withanolide A. Combined TNF-α and TGF-β treatments conferred partial protection against MCF-10A cell migration inhibition by WA. Inhibition of TNF-α and TGF-β-induced MCF-10A cell migration by WA exposure was modestly attenuated by knockdown of E-cadherin protein. MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells exposed to WA exhibited sustained (MCF-7) or transient (MDA-MB-231) induction of E-cadherin protein. On the other hand, the level of vimentin protein was increased markedly after 24 h treatment of MDA-MB-231 cells with WA. WA-induced apoptosis was not affected by vimentin protein knockdown in MDA-MB-231 cells. Protein level of vimentin was significantly lower in the MDA-MB-231 xenografts as well as in MMTV-neu tumors from WA-treated mice compared with controls. The major conclusions of the present study are that (a) WA treatment inhibits experimental EMT in MCF-10A cells, and (b) mammary cancer growth inhibition by WA administration is associated with suppression of vimentin protein expression in vivo.

Keywords: EMT; breast cancer; vimentin; withaferin A.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Breast / drug effects
  • Breast / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice, Nude
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism
  • Vimentin / analysis
  • Vimentin / metabolism*
  • Withanolides / pharmacology
  • Withanolides / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Vimentin
  • Withanolides
  • withaferin A