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J Membr Biol. 2011 Jul;242(2):53-67. doi: 10.1007/s00232-011-9376-4. Epub 2011 Jul 5.

The life and death of breast cancer cells: proposing a role for the effects of phytoestrogens on potassium channels.

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  • 1School of Health Sciences, Queen Margaret University, Musselburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.


Changes in the regulation of potassium channels are increasingly implicated in the altered activity of breast cancer cells. Increased or reduced expression of a number of K(+) channels have been identified in numerous breast cancer cell lines and cancerous tissue biopsy samples, compared to normal tissue, and are associated with tumor formation and spread, enhanced levels of proliferation, and resistance to apoptotic stimuli. Through knockout or silencing of K(+) channel genes, and use of specific or more broad pharmacologic K(+) channel blockers, the growth of numerous cell lines, including breast cancer cells, has been modified. In this manner it has been proposed that in MCF7 breast cancer cells proliferation appears to be regulated by the activity of a number of K(+) channels, including the Ca(2+) activated K(+) channels, and the voltage-gated K(+) channels hEAG and K(v)1.1. The effect of phytoestrogens on K(+) channels has not been extensively studied but yields some interesting results. In a number of cell lines the phytoestrogen genistein inhibits K(+) current through several channels including K(v)1.3 and hERG. Where it has been used, structurally similar daidzein has little or no effect on K(+) channel activity. Since many K(+) channels have roles in proliferation and apoptosis in breast cancer cells, the impact of K(+) channel regulation by phytoestrogens is of potentially great relevance.

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