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Oncol Rep. 2015 Apr;33(4):2072-6. doi: 10.3892/or.2015.3796. Epub 2015 Feb 12.

Selective anticancer activity of hirsutine against HER2‑positive breast cancer cells by inducing DNA damage.

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Division of Pathogenic Biochemistry, Department of Bioscience, Institute of Natural Medicine, University of Toyama, Toyama, Toyama 930-0194, Japan.


Hirsutine is one of the major alkaloids isolated from plants of the Uncaria genus and is known for its cardioprotective, anti‑hypertensive and anti-arrhythmic activities. We recently reported that hirsutine is an anti-metastatic phytochemical by targeting NF-κB activation in a murine breast cancer model. In the present study, we further examined the clinical utility of hirsutine against human breast cancer. Among six distinct human breast cancer cell lines, hirsutine showed strong cytotoxicity against HER2-positive/p53-mutated MDA-MB‑453 and BT474 cell lines. Conversely, HER2-negative/p53 wild‑type MCF-7 and ZR-75-1 cell lines showed resistance against hirsutine-induced cytotoxicity. Hirsutine induced apoptotic cell death in the MDA-MB-453 cells, but not in the MCF-7 cells, through activation of caspases. Furthermore, hirsutine induced the DNA damage response in the MDA-MB-453 cells, but not in the MCF-7 cells, as highlighted by the upregulation of γH2AX expression. Along with the induction of the DNA damage response, the suppression of HER2, NF-κB and Akt pathways and the activation of the p38 MAPK pathway in the MDA-MB-453 cells were observed. Considering that there was no difference between MDA-MB-453 and MCF-7 cells in regards to irinotecan‑induced DNA damage response, our present results indicate the selective anticancer activity of hirsutine in HER2-positive breast cancer by inducing a DNA damage response.

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