Betulinic acid impairs metastasis and reduces immunosuppressive cells in breast cancer models

Oncotarget. 2017 Dec 17;9(3):3794-3804. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.23376. eCollection 2018 Jan 9.


Breast cancer is the most common female cancer with considerable metastatic potential, explaining the need for new candidates that inhibit tumor metastasis. In our study, betulinic acid (BA), a kind of pentacyclic triterpenoid compound derived from birch trees, was evaluated for its anti-metastasis activity in vitro and in vivo. BA decreased the viability of three breast cancer cell lines and markedly impaired cell migration and invasion. In addition, BA could inhibit the activation of stat3 and FAK which resulted in a reduction of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), and increase of the MMPs inhibitor (TIMP-2) expression. Moreover, in our animal experiment, intraperitoneal administration of 10 mg/kg/day BA suppressed 4T1 tumor growth and blocked formation of pulmonary metastases without obvious side effects. Furthermore, histological and immunohistochemical analyses showed a decrease in MMP-9 positive cells, MMP-2 positive cells and Ki-67 positive cells and an increase in cleaved caspase-3 positive cells upon BA administration. Notably, BA reduced the number of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in the lungs and tumors. Interestingly, in our caudal vein model, BA also obviously suppressed 4T1 tumor pulmonary metastases. These findings suggested that BA might be a potential agent for inhibiting the growth and metastasis of breast cancer.

Keywords: MDSCs; betulinic acid; breast cancer; migration and invasion; pulmonary metastases.