Prostate cancer (PCA) is the most common nonskin malignancy and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in United States males. One practical and translational approach to control PCA is to define a mechanism-based anticarcinogenic agent(s). Recently, we showed that silymarin, a flavonoid antioxidant isolated from milk thistle, possesses exceptionally high to complete protective effects against experimentally induced tumor-igenesis. Because the epidermal growth factor receptor (erbB1) and other members of the erbB family have been shown to play important roles in human PCA, efforts should be directed to identify inhibitors of this pathway for PCA intervention. In this study, we assessed whether silymarin inhibits erbB1 activation and associated downstream events and modulates cell cycle regulatory proteins and progression, leading to growth inhibition of human prostate carcinoma DU145 cells. Treatment of serum-starved cells with silymarin resulted in a significant inhibition of transforming growth factor α-mediated activation of erbB1 but no change in its protein levels. Silymarin treatment of cells also resulted in a significant decrease in tyrosine phosphorylation of an immediate downstream target of erbB1, the adapter protein SHC, together with a decrease in its binding to erbB1. In the studies analyzing cell cycle regulatory molecules, silymarin treatment of cells also resulted in a significant induction of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors (CDKIs) Cip1/p21 and Kip1/p27, concomitant with a significant decrease in CDK4 expression, but no change in the levels of CDK2 and CDK6 and their associated cyclins E and D1, respectively. Cells treated with silymarin also showed an increased binding of CDKIs with CDKs, together with a marked decrease in the kinase activity of CDKs and associated cyclins. In additional studies, treatment of cells grown in 10% serum with anti-epidermal growth factor receptor monoclonal antibody clone 225 or different doses of silymarin also resulted in significant inhibition of constitutive tyrosine phosphorylation of both erbB1 and SHC but no change in their protein levels. Furthermore, whereas silymarin treatment resulted in a significant increase in the protein levels of both Cip1/p21 and Kip1/p27, monoclonal antibody 225 showed an increase only in Kip1/p27. These findings suggest that silymarin also inhibits constitutive activation of erbB1 and that the observed effect of silymarin on an increase in CDKI protein levels is mediated via inhibition of erbB1 activation only in the case of Kip1/p27; however, additional pathways independent of inhibition of erbB1 activation are possibly responsible for the silymarin-caused increase in Cip1/p21 in DU145 cells. In other studies, silymarin treatment also induced a G1 arrest in the cell cycle progression of DU145 cells and resulted in a highly significant to complete inhibition of both anchorage-dependent and anchorage-independent growth of DU145 cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Taken together, these results suggest that silymarin may exert a strong anticarcinogenic effect against PCA and that this effect is likely to involve impairment of erbB1-SHC-mediated signaling pathway, induction of CDKIs, and a resultant G1 arrest.


This work was supported in part by United States Public Health Service Grant CA 64514 (to R. A.), a Prostate Cancer pilot grant from Case Western Reserve University Cancer Center through the funds provided by United States Public Health Service Grant P30-CA 43703, and an Ohio Cancer Research Associates grant.

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