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Cancer Lett. 2013 Oct 1;339(1):102-6. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2013.07.017. Epub 2013 Jul 20.

Silibinin reverses drug resistance in human small-cell lung carcinoma cells.

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Department of Cancer Biology, Beckman Research Institute at City of Hope, 1500 East Duarte Rd., Duarte, CA 91010, USA.


Small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) has a dismal prognosis in part because of multidrug resistance (MDR). Silibinin is a flavonolignan extracted from milk thistle (Silybum marianum), extracts of which are used in traditional medicine. We tested the effects of silibinin on drug-sensitive (H69) and multi-drug resistant (VPA17) SCLC cells. VPA17 cells did not show resistance to silibinin (IC50 = 60 μM for H69 and VPA17). Flow cytometry analysis after incubation in 30 μM silibinin showed no changes in cell cycle phases in VPA17 or H69 cells compared with untreated cells. Silibinin (30 μM) incubation was pro-apoptotic in VPA17 cells after > 3 days, as measured by ELISA of BUdR labeled DNA fragments. Apoptosis was also indicated by an increase in caspase-3 specific activity and decrease in survivin in VPA17 MDR cells. VPA17 cells had increased Pgp-mediated efflux of calcein acetoxymethyl ester (calcein AM); however, this was inhibited in cells pre-incubated in silibinin for 5 days. Pre-incubation of VPA17 cells in 30 μM silibinin for 5 days also reversed resistance to etoposide (IC50 = 5.50 to 0.65 μM) and doxorubicin (IC50 = 0.625 to 0.035 μM). The possible synergistic relationship between silibinin and chemotherapy drugs was determined by exposure of VPA17 cells to 1:1 ratios of their respective IC50 values, with serial dilutions at 0.25 to 2.0 × IC50 and calculation of the combination index (CI). Silibinin and etoposide showed synergism (CI = 0.46 at ED50), as did silibinin and doxorubicin (CI = 0.24 at ED50). These data indicate that in SCLC, silibinin is pro-apoptotic, reverses MDR and acts synergistically with chemotherapy drugs. Silibinin, a non-toxic natural product may be useful in the treatment of drug-resistant SCLC.


Apoptosis; Chemotherapy; Lung carcinoma; Multidrug resistance; Sensitization; Silibinin

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