Induction of apoptosis in MCF-7: WS8 breast cancer cells by β-Lapachone

Shelly M. Wuerzberger, John J. Pink, Sarah M. Planchon, Krista L. Byers, William G. Bornmann, David A. Boothman

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128 Scopus citations


β-Lapachone (β-lap) affects a number of enzymes in vitro, including type I topoisomerase (Topo I); however, its exact intracellular target(s) and mechanism of cell killing remain unknown. We compared the cytotoxic responses of MCF-7:WS8 (MCF-7) human breast cancer cells after 4-h pulses of β-lap or camptothecin (CPT), a known Topo I poison. A direct correlation between loss of survival and apoptosis was seen after β-lap treatment (LD50 = 2.5 μM). A concentration-dependent, transient sub-2 N preapoptotic cell population was observed at 4-8 h. Estrogen deprivation-induced synchronization and bromodeoxyuridine-labeling studies revealed an apoptotic exit point near the G1-S border. Apoptosis activated by β-lap was closely correlated with cleavage of lamin B but not with increases in p53/p21 or decreases in bcl-2. Loss of hyperphosphorylated forms of the retinoblastoma protein was observed within 5 h, but cyclins A, B1, and E levels were unaltered for up to 72 h after 5 μM β-lap. Topo I and Topo IIα levels decreased at >24 h. Logarithmic-phase MCF-7 cells were not affected by ≤1 μM β-lap. In contrast, dramatic and irreversible G2-M arrest with no apoptosis was observed in MCF-7 cells treated with 1 μM CPT, monitored for 6-10 days posttreatment. MCF-7 cells treated with supralethal doses of CPT (5 μM) resulted in only ~20% apoptosis. No correlation between apoptosis and loss of survival was observed. MCF-7 cells exposed to >5 μM CPT arrested at key cell cycle checkpoints (i.e., G1, S, and G2-M), with little or no movement for 6 days. Ten-fold increases in p53/p21 and 2-5-fold decreases in bcl-2, Topo I, Topo IIα, and cyclins A and B1, with no change in cyclin E, were observed. Temporal decreases in bcl-2 and cleavage of lamin B corresponded to the minimal apoptotic response observed. β-Lap activated apoptosis without inducing p53/p21 or cell cycle arrest responses and killed MCF-7 cells solely by apoptosis. In contrast, concentration-dependent increases in nuclear p53/p21 and various cell cycle checkpoint arrests were seen in MCF-7 cells after CPT. Despite dramatic p53/p21 protein induction responses, CPT-treated MCF-7 cells showed low levels of apoptosis, possibly due to protective cell cycle checkpoints or the lack of specific CPT-activated apoptotic pathways in MCF-7 cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1876-1885
Number of pages10
JournalCancer research
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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