Quercetin inhibits prostate cancer by attenuating cell survival and inhibiting anti-apoptotic pathways

World J Surg Oncol. 2018 Jun 14;16(1):108. doi: 10.1186/s12957-018-1400-z.


Background: Despite recent advances in diagnosis and treatment, prostate cancer (PCa) remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. Current treatments offered in the clinics are often toxic and have severe side effects. Hence, to treat and manage PCa, new agents with fewer side effects or having potential to reduce side effects of conventional therapy are needed. In this study, we show anti-cancer effects of quercetin, an abundant bioflavonoid commonly used to treat prostatitis, and defined quercetin-induced cellular and molecular changes leading to PCa cell death.

Methods: Cell viability was assessed using MTT. Cell death mode, mitochondrial outer membrane potential, and oxidative stress levels were determined by flow cytometry using Annexin V-7 AAD dual staining kit, JC-1 dye, and ROS detection kit, respectively. Antibody microarray and western blot were used to delineate the molecular changes induced by quercetin.

Results: PCa cells treated with various concentrations of quercetin showed time- and dose-dependent decrease in cell viability compared to controls, without affecting normal prostate epithelial cells. Quercetin led to apoptotic and necrotic cell death in PCa cells by affecting the mitochondrial integrity and disturbing the ROS homeostasis depending upon the genetic makeup and oxidative status of the cells. LNCaP and PC-3 cells that have an oxidative cellular environment showed ROS quenching after quercetin treatment while DU-145 showed rise in ROS levels despite having a highly reductive environment. Opposing effects of quercetin were also observed on the pro-survival pathways of PCa cells. PCa cells with mutated p53 (DU-145) and increased ROS showed significant reduction in the activation of pro-survival Akt pathway while Raf/MEK were activated in response to quercetin. PC-3 cells lacking p53 and PTEN with reduced ROS levels showed significant activation of Akt and NF-κB pathway. Although some of these changes are commonly associated with oncogenic response, the cumulative effect of these alterations is PCa cell death.

Conclusions: Our results demonstrated quercetin exerts its anti-cancer effects by modulating ROS, Akt, and NF-κB pathways. Quercetin could be used as a chemopreventive option as well as in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs to improve clinical outcomes of PCa patients.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Bioflavonoid; Cell survival; Chemoprevention; Prostate cancer; Quercetin.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Quercetin / pharmacology*
  • Quercetin / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Quercetin