Formononetin potentiates epirubicin-induced apoptosis via ROS production in HeLa cells in vitro.Chem Biol Interact. 2013 Oct 05; 205(3):188-97.CB
The frequent development of multidrug resistance (MDR) hampers the efficacy of available anticancer drugs in treating cervical cancer. In this study, we aimed to use formononetin (7-hydroxy-4'-methoxyisoflavone), a potential herbal isoflavone, to intensify the chemosensitivity of human cervical cancer HeLa cells to epirubicin, an anticancer drug. The reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels were correlated with MDR modulation mechanisms, including the transporter inhibition and apoptosis induction. Our results revealed that formononetin significantly enhanced the cytotoxicity of epirubicin. Co-incubation of epirubicin with formononetin increased the ROS levels, including hydrogen peroxide and superoxide free radicals. Epirubicin alone markedly increased the mRNA expression of MDR1, MDR-associated protein (MRP) 1, and MRP2. In contrast, formononetin alone or combined treatment decreased the mRNA expression of MRP1 and MRP2. This result indicates that efflux transporter-mediated epirubicin resistance is inhibited at different degrees by the addition of formononetin. This isoflavone significantly intensified epirubicin uptake into HeLa cells. Apoptosis was induced by formononetin and/or epirubicin, as signified by nuclear DNA fragmentation, chromatin condensation, increased sub-G1 and G2/M phases. The cotreatment triggered the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway indicated by increased Bax-to-Bcl-2 expression ratio, loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, and significant activation of caspase-9 and -3. In addition, extrinsic/caspases-8 apoptotic pathway was also induced by the cotreatment. N-acetyl cysteine abrogated these events induced by formononetin, supporting the involvement of ROS in the MDR reversal mechanism. This study pioneered in demonstrating that formononetin may potentiate the cytotoxicity of epirubicin in HeLa cells through the ROS-mediated MRP inhibition and concurrent activation of the mitochondrial and death receptor pathways of apoptosis. Hence, the circumvention of pump and non-pump resistance using formononetin and epirubicin may pave the way for a powerful chemotherapeutic regimen for treating human cervical cancer.