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J Med Food. 2010 Apr;13(2):278-85. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2009.0053.

Cytotoxic effects of bilberry extract on MCF7-GFP-tubulin breast cancer cells.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA.


Bilberry (European blueberry) has been reported to have many biological effects, including anticancer activity. In this study, we investigated the antiproliferative effects of bilberry extract in relation to its ability to induce apoptosis and affect microtubule assembly and organization in MCF7 human breast cancer cells. We observed that bilberry extract inhibited cell proliferation in a concentration-dependent fashion with a 50% inhibitory concentration of 0.3-0.4 mg/mL, in concert with induction of apoptotic cell death. At these concentrations there was no selective inhibition of mitosis or any other cell cycle stage, nor was there any apparent effect on the microtubule or actin cytoskeletons. However, somewhat higher extract concentrations (0.5-0.9 mg/mL) did cause an increase in the fraction of cells at the G(2)/M phase of the cell cycle, together with destruction of microtubules and formation of punctate tubulin aggregates in the cells. Bilberry extract at 0.3-0.4 mg/mL did not appreciably inhibit microtubule polymerization in vitro, but significant inhibition of polymerization (approximately 30%) did occur at higher extract concentrations (0.5-1 mg/mL). We conclude that bilberry extract as ingested by humans, not just the purified anthocyanins it contains, inhibits proliferation of and induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells at its lowest effective concentrations via a mechanism that does not involve action on microtubules or on mitosis. We further conclude that at somewhat higher concentrations the extract modifies microtubule organization in cells and causes accumulation of cells at mitosis by a direct action on microtubules.

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