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Integr Cancer Ther. 2006 Sep;5(3):236-43.

Extraction-dependent effects of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) on human breast cancer cell proliferation and estrogen receptor activation.

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Department of Physiology, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Carbondale, Illinois 62901-6523, USA.



Ginseng root extracts and the biologically active ginsenosides have been shown to inhibit proliferation of human cancer cell lines, including breast cancer. However, there are conflicting data that suggest that ginseng extracts (GEs) may or may not have estrogenic action, which might be contraindicated in individuals with estrogen-dependent cancers. The current study was designed to address the hypothesis that the extraction method of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) root will dictate its ability to produce an estrogenic response using the estrogen receptor (ER)-positive MCF-7 human breast cancer cell model.


MCF-7 cells were treated with a wide concentration range of either methanol-(alc-GE) or water-extracted (w-GE) ginseng root for 6 days. Cells were grown in media containing either normal or charcoal-stripped fetal calf serum to limit exposure to exogenous estrogen. Thus, an increase in MCF-7 cell proliferation by GE indicated potential estrogenicity. This was confirmed by blocking GE-induced MCF-7 cell proliferation with ER antagonists ICI 182,780 (1 nM) and 4-hydroxytamoxifen (0.1 microM). Furthermore, the ability of GE to bind ERalpha or ERbeta and stimulate estrogen-responsive genes was examined.


Alc-GE, but not w-GE, was able to increase MCF-7 cell proliferation at low concentrations (5-100 microg/mL) when cells were maintained under low-estrogen conditions. The stimulatory effect of alc-GE on MCF-7 cell proliferation was blocked by the ER antagonists ICI 182,780 or 4-hydroxyta-moxifen. At higher concentrations of GE, both extracts inhibited MCF-7 and ER-negative MDA-MB-231 cell proliferation regardless of media conditions. Binding assays demonstrated that alc-GE, but not w-GE, was able to bind ERalpha and ERbeta. Alc-GE (50 microg/mL) also induced an approximate 2.5-fold increase in expression of the estrogen-responsive pS2 gene, as well as progesterone receptor (PgR) gene expression, whereas w-GE was without effect.


These data indicate that low concentrations of alc-GE, but not w-GE, elicit estrogenic effects, as evidenced by increased MCF-7 cell proliferation, in a manner antagonized by ER antagonists, interactions of alc-GE with estrogen receptors, and increased expression of estrogen-responsive genes by alc-GE. Thus, discrepant results between different laboratories may be due to the type of GE being analyzed for estrogenic activity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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