Anticarcinogenic effect of a flavonoid antioxidant, silymarin, in human breast cancer cells MDA-MB 468: induction of G1 arrest through an increase in Cip1/p21 concomitant with a decrease in kinase activity of cyclin-dependent kinases and associated cyclins

Clin Cancer Res. 1998 Apr;4(4):1055-64.


There is an increasing interest in identifying potent cancer preventive and therapeutic agents against breast cancer. Silymarin, a flavonoid antioxidant isolated from milk thistle, exerts exceptionally high to complete anticarcinogenic effects in tumorigenesis models of epithelial origin. In this study, we investigated the anticarcinogenic effect of silymarin and associated molecular mechanisms, using human breast carcinoma cells MDA-MB 468. Silymarin treatment resulted in a significantly high to complete inhibition of both anchorage-dependent and anchorage-independent cell growth in a dose- and time-dependent manner. The inhibitory effects of silymarin on cell growth and proliferation were associated with a G1 arrest in cell cycle progression concomitant with an induction of up to 19-fold in the protein expression of cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor Cip1/p21. Following silymarin treatment of cells, an incremental binding of Cip1/p21 with CDK2 and CDK6 paralleled a significant decrease in CDK2-, CDK6-, cyclin D1-, and cyclin E-associated kinase activity with no change in CDK2 and CDK6 expression but a decrease in G1 cyclins D1 and E. Taken together, these results suggest that silymarin may exert a strong anticarcinogenic effect against breast cancer and that this effect possibly involves an induction of Cip1/p21 by silymarin, which inhibits the threshold kinase activities of CDKs and associated cyclins, leading to a G1 arrest in cell cycle progression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Binding Sites
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / drug effects*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / metabolism
  • Cyclins / drug effects*
  • Cyclins / metabolism
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Flow Cytometry
  • G1 Phase / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Silymarin / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured / drug effects


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • CDKN1A protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Cyclins
  • Silymarin
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases