Total flavonoids of Litchi seed attenuate stem cell-like properties in breast cancer by regulating Notch3 signaling pathway

J Ethnopharmacol. 2023 Apr 6:305:116133. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2023.116133. Epub 2023 Jan 2.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Breast cancer has been the most commonly-diagnosed cancer worldwide, and the treatment and prognosis of which are often limited by breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs). Litchi seeds have shown good anti-cancer activity in various cancers including prostate cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer. However, the activity and underlying mechanism of Litchi seeds against BCSCs remain unknown.

Aim of the study: To investigate the activity and mechanism of total flavonoids of litchi seed (TFLS) against BCSCs in vitro and in vivo.

Materials and methods: Two orthotopic xenograft mouse models were established using HCC1806 cells pretreated or untreated with TFLS to determine whether TFLS could target BCSCs in vivo. Mammosphere formation and flow cytometry assays were employed to evaluate the effect of TFLS on BCSCs in vitro. The underlying mechanism was investigated using RT-qPCR, Western blot, immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence experiments.

Results: TFLS could significantly inhibit the viability of HCC1806, MCF-7 and HCC1937 cells in vitro and suppress the growth of HCC1806 cells in vivo. TFLS attenuated stem cell-like properties of breast cancer through reducing the percentage of CD44+CD24-/low cells, inhibiting the mammospheres formation and down-regulating the mRNA and protein levels of cancer stem cells related markers (Oct4, Nanog, Sox2) in MCF-7 and HCC1806 cells. Meanwhile, TFLS suppressed the tumor-initiating ability of BCSCs via reducing the percentage of CD44+CD24-/low cells in tumor and lowering tumor incidence rate in orthotopic xenograft mice. In addition, TFLS treatments restricted the expression and nuclear translocation of Notch3, subsequently down-regulated Hes1 and Runx2 expressions.

Conclusions: TFLS could suppress the growth of breast cancer and eliminate breast cancer stem cells by inhibiting the Notch3 signaling pathway.

Keywords: Breast cancer stem cells; Notch3; Total flavonoids of Litchi seed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Female
  • Flavonoids / metabolism
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Flavonoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Litchi*
  • Mice
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells
  • Receptor, Notch3 / metabolism
  • Seeds
  • Signal Transduction


  • Flavonoids
  • NOTCH3 protein, human
  • Receptor, Notch3