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Clin Cancer Res. 2000 Nov;6(11):4334-42.

Histone deacetylase inhibitors decrease proliferation and modulate cell cycle gene expression in normal mammary epithelial cells.

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  • 1Department of Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, University of Sydney, Westmead, NSW, Australia.


Full-term pregnancy early in reproductive life is protective against breast cancer in women. The protective effects of parity have variously been attributed to the differentiation that accompanies pregnancy and lactation, alterations in ovarian hormone receptor levels, and altered sensitivity to ovarian hormones. Butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, induces differentiation in breast cancer cell lines and decreases hormone receptor expression. Butyrate also inhibits proliferation in breast cancer cell lines and modulates expression of key cell cycle-regulatory proteins including cyclin D1. Given these properties, butyrate could be considered a promising agent for breast cancer prevention. Therefore, this study aimed to determine the effects of butyrate on normal human breast epithelial cells and to compare the effects of two stable butyrate derivatives with more favorable pharmacological properties: phenylacetate and its p.o. active precursor phenylbutyrate. Treatment with each agent resulted in concentration-dependent growth inhibition in a normal breast epithelial cell line and two breast cancer cell lines (MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231). Phenylbutyrate and butyrate inhibited proliferation to a similar extent, but phenylacetate was less effective in all of the cell lines. All three of the agents induced differentiation (accumulation of lipid droplets) in normal as well as in breast cancer cells and caused a decrease in estrogen receptor (ER) mRNA in MCF-7 cells. The butyrates decreased expression of cyclin D1, increased expression of p21(Waf1/Cip1), and hypophosphorylated pRB in the normal mammary epithelial cells. The effects on cyclin D1 expression correlated with the effects on cell proliferation, which suggests that modulation of cyclin D1 expression may underpin the antiproliferative effects of butyrates. We have shown that butyrate and butyrate-like agents are able to decrease proliferation and induce differentiation in normal breast cells as well as in malignant breast cells (ER-positive and ER-negative) and, as such, may be considered as candidate chemopreventative agents for women at high risk of developing breast cancer.

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