In vitro effects and mechanisms of lycopene in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells

Genet Mol Res. 2017 Apr 13;16(2). doi: 10.4238/gmr16029434.


Breast cancer adversely affects the health status of women; therefore, the prevention and treatment of breast cancer is of critical importance. Lycopene is known to possess several biological effects such as removal of free radicals, alleviation of biological oxidative injury, and inhibition of tumor growth. In this study, we aimed to illustrate the effect of lycopene on tumor cell proliferation and modulation of cancer progression as well as its possible underlying mechanisms in human breast carcinoma cell line MCF-7 in vitro. MCF-7 cells were treated with different lycopene concentrations for 24, 48, and 72 h. Light field microscopy was used to observe cell morphology. MTT assay was used to determine the effect of lycopene on MCF-7 proliferation. Flow cytometry was employed to evaluate cell apoptosis. Real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction was performed to detect the expression of p53 and Bax. Under microscopic examination, the untreated MCF-7 cells appeared to have a diamond or polygonal shape. Lycopene treatment resulted in cell shrinkage and breakage, whose severity increased in a dose and duration dependent manner. In addition, reduced cell proliferation and increased apoptosis (P < 0.05) were observed using MTT assay and flow cytometry, respectively. Moreover, lycopene could also upregulate the expression of p53 and Bax mRNAs in MCF-7 cells. In conclusion, lycopene inhibits proliferation and facilitates apoptosis of MCF-7 cells in vitro, possibly by regulating the expression of p53 and Bax.

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Lycopene
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / genetics
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / metabolism


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Carotenoids
  • Lycopene