Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) lacks the expressions of estrogen receptor-α, progesterone receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2. The treatment options for TNBC include anthracyclin/taxol based conventional chemotherapy and small molecular inhibitor based targeted therapy. However, the therapeutic efficacy is limited by systemic toxicity and acquired tumor resistance; identification of less toxic testable alternatives is urgently required. Non-toxic nutritional herbs are commonly used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine for general health management and may additionally represent a testable therapeutic alternative for TNBC. The present study examined the growth inhibitory efficacy of the nutritional herb Cornus officinalis (CO) in MDA-MB-231 cells, which represent a cell culture model for TNBC, and identified potential mechanistic leads. In MDA-MB-231 cells, CO induced dose-dependent cytostatic growth arrest [inhibitory concentration (IC)50, 0.1% and IC90, 0.5%], and inhibited anchorage independent colony formation. Mechanistically, CO inhibited G1 to S phase transition leading to G1 arrest and decreased the expression of cyclin D1 and phosphorylated-retinoblastoma proteins. CO additionally altered apoptosis specific BCL-2 associated X protein/B-cell lymphoma-2 expression and upregulated pro-apoptotic caspase-3/7 activity. Collectively, these data provided mechanistic evidence for the efficacy of CO, and validated a mechanism-based approach to prioritize efficacious nutritional herbs as testable alternatives for secondary prevention/treatment of TNBC.
Keywords: Chinese herbal medicine; cell culture; triple-negative breast cancer.