The effect of sulforaphane on the cell cycle, apoptosis and expression of cyclin D1 and p21 in the A549 non-small cell lung cancer cell line

Int J Oncol. 2016 Jun;48(6):2521-33. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2016.3444. Epub 2016 Mar 18.


Sulforaphane (SFN) is present in plants belonging to Cruciferae family and was first isolated from broccoli sprouts. Chemotherapeutic and anticarcinogenic properties of sulforaphane were demonstrated, however, the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. In this study we evaluated the expression of cyclin D1 and p21 protein in SFN-treated A549 cells and correlated these results with the extent of cell death and/or cell cycle alterations, as well as determined a potential contribution of cyclin D1 to cell death. A549 cells were treated with increasing concentrations of SFN (30, 60 and 90 µM) for 24 h. Morphological and ultrastructural changes were observed using light, transmission electron microscope and videomicroscopy. Image-based cytometry was applied to evaluate the effect of SFN on apoptosis and the cell cycle. Cyclin D1 and p21 expression was determined by flow cytometry, RT-qPCR and immunofluorescence. siRNA was used to evaluate the role of cyclin D1 in the process of suforaphane-induced cell death. We found that the percentage of cyclin D1-positive cells decreased after the treatment with SFN, but at the same time mean fluorescence intensity reflecting cyclin D1 content was increased at 30 µM SFN and decreased at 60 and 90 µM SFN. Percentage of p21-positive cells increased following the treatment, with the highest increase at 60 µM SFN, at which concentration mean fluorescence intensity of this protein was also significantly increased. The 30-µM dose of SFN induced an increased G2/M phase population along with a decreased polyploid fraction of cells, which implies a functional G2/M arrest. The major mode of cell death induced by SFN was necrosis and, to a lower degree apoptosis. Transfection with cyclin D1-siRNA resulted in significantly compromised fraction of apoptotic and necrotic cells, which suggests that cyclin D1 is an important determinant of the therapeutic efficiency of SFN in the A549 cells.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cyclin D1 / genetics*
  • Cyclin D1 / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / genetics*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Sulfoxides


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • CCND1 protein, human
  • CDKN1A protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Isothiocyanates
  • Sulfoxides
  • Cyclin D1
  • sulforaphane