Formononetin, an isoflavone from Astragalus membranaceus inhibits proliferation and metastasis of ovarian cancer cells

J Ethnopharmacol. 2018 Jul 15;221:91-99. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2018.04.014. Epub 2018 Apr 13.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Astragalus membranaceus which was originally described in the Shennong's Classic of Materia Medica, the earliest complete Pharmacopoeia of China written from the Warring States Period to Han Dynasty, has been widely used in Chinese medicine for > 2000 years, especially in the prescription of curing cancer. A. membranaceus has various bioactivities, such as anti-tumor, anti-viral, anti-oxidant, anti-diabetes, anti-inflammation, anti-atherosclerosis, immunomodulation, hepatoprotection, hematopoiesis, neuroprotection and so on. As an important component of A. membranaceus, whether formononetin has a close relationship with its tumor-inhibiting effect on ovarian cancer cell has been investigated.

Aim of study: The present study aimed to demonstrate the anti-proliferation, anti- migration and invasion effects of formononetin on ovarian cancer cells and further explore the underlying molecular mechanisms associated with apoptosis, migration and invasion.

Materials and methods: MTT assay was performed to detect the viability of ovarian cancer cells. DAPI staining, Annexin-V assay and assay for mitochondrial membrane potential detected the apoptosis of ovarian cancer cells treated by formononetin. The migration and invasion of ovarian cancer cells which exposed to formononetin were detected by scratch assay and transwell assay. Meanwhile, the protein-level changes of in ovarian cancer cells treated by formononetin were assessed by western blot analysis.

Results: MTT assays indicated that cell viability significantly decreased in ovarian cancer cells treated with formononetin. DAPI staining, Annexin-V assay and assay for mitochondrial membrane potential suggested that formononetin suppressed cells proliferation by inducing apoptosis. We detected the expression of apoptosis-related proteins in ovarian cancer cells after treatment with formononetin and found the expression of caspase 3/9 proteins and the ratio of Bax/Bcl-2 were increased in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, wound healing and transwell chamber assays showed that formononetin suppressed the migration and invasion of ovarian cancer cells. And formononetin decreased expression of MMP-2/9 proteins and phosphorylation level of ERK.

Conclusions: The present results demonstrated that formononetin have potential effects on induction of apoptosis and suppression of migration and invasion.

Keywords: Astragalus membranaceus; Formononetin; Mechanism; Ovarian cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • Astragalus propinquus*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 2 / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / metabolism
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Isoflavones
  • formononetin
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • MMP2 protein, human
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 2
  • MMP9 protein, human
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9