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Carcinogenesis. 2011 Sep;32(9):1315-23. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgr116. Epub 2011 Jun 21.

Indole-3-carbinol downregulation of telomerase gene expression requires the inhibition of estrogen receptor-alpha and Sp1 transcription factor interactions within the hTERT promoter and mediates the G1 cell cycle arrest of human breast cancer cells.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and The Cancer Research Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3200, USA.


Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a naturally occurring hydrolysis product of glucobrassicin from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, is an anticancer phytochemical that triggers complementary sets of antiproliferative pathways to induce a cell cycle arrest of estrogen-responsive MCF7 breast cancer cells. I3C strongly downregulated transcript expression of the catalytic subunit of the human telomerase (hTERT) gene, which correlated with the dose-dependent indole-mediated G(1) cell cycle arrest without altering the transcript levels of the RNA template (hTR) for telomerase elongation. Exogenous expression of hTERT driven by a constitutive promoter prevented the I3C-induced cell cycle arrest and rescued the I3C inhibition of telomerase enzymatic activity and activation of cellular senescence. Time course studies showed that I3C downregulated expression of estrogen receptor-alpha (ERα) and cyclin-dependent kinase-6 transcripts levels (which is regulated through the Sp1 transcription factor) prior to the downregulation of hTERT suggesting a mechanistic link. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays demonstrated that I3C disrupted endogenous interactions of both ERα and Sp1 with an estrogen response element-Sp1 composite element within the hTERT promoter. I3C inhibited 17β-estradiol stimulated hTERT expression and stimulated the production of threonine-phosphorylated Sp1, which inhibits Sp1-DNA interactions. Exogenous expression of both ERα and Sp1, but not either alone, in MCF7 cells blocked the I3C-mediated downregulation of hTERT expression. These results demonstrate that I3C disrupts the combined ERα- and Sp1-driven transcription of hTERT gene expression, which plays a significant role in the I3C-induced cell cycle arrest of human breast cancer cells.

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