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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2012 Apr;341(1):24-32. doi: 10.1124/jpet.111.188706. Epub 2011 Dec 28.

Blocking epidermal growth factor receptor activation by 3,3'-diindolylmethane suppresses ovarian tumor growth in vitro and in vivo.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, Cancer Biology Center, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, 1406 Coulter, Amarillo, TX 79106, USA.


Genetic alterations, including the overexpression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) (in approximately 70% of ovarian tumors), play a crucial role in the signal transduction pathways that regulate key cellular functions, such as cell survival and proliferation, and are responsible for compromising traditional chemotherapy. 3,3'-Diindolylmethane (DIM) is an indole compound present in Brassica vegetables. In our previous studies, we demonstrated that BR-DIM, a formulated version of DIM, suppressed the growth of ovarian cancer cells by causing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. In the present study, we delineated the mechanism by which DIM suppressed the growth of SKOV-3, OVCAR-3, and TOV-21G human ovarian cancer cells. DIM treatment caused significant down-regulation of the constitutive EGFR protein level as well as phosphorylation of EGFR at Tyr1068, Tyr992, Tyr845, and Tyr1173 in various ovarian cancer cells. To determine whether DIM suppressed the activation of EGFR by activating phosphorylation, cells were treated with epidermal growth factor. Epidermal growth factor treatment significantly blocked the DIM-mediated inhibition of EGFR activation and apoptosis in both SKOV-3 and OVCAR-3 cells. In addition, DIM treatment drastically reduced the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK) and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), which are downstream to EGFR, without affecting their protein levels. DIM treatment also inhibited the kinase activity of ERK, as observed by the down-regulation of phospho-E twenty-six like transcription factor 1 (p-ELK1) in all three ovarian cancer cell lines. DIM significantly suppressed the growth of ovarian tumors in vivo. Tumor growth suppressive effects of DIM in SKOV-3 tumor xenografts were associated with reduced phosphorylation of EGFR, MEK, and ERK. These results indicate that DIM induces apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells by inhibiting the EGFR-ERK pathway in vitro and in vivo.

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