Here, we investigated the anticancer effect of Rhus coriaria on three breast cancer cell lines. We demonstrated that Rhus coriaria ethanolic extract (RCE) inhibits the proliferation of these cell lines in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. RCE induced senescence and cell cycle arrest at G1 phase. These changes were concomitant with upregulation of p21, downregulation of cyclin D1, p27, PCNA, c-myc, phospho-RB and expression of senescence-associated β-galactosidase activity. No proliferative recovery was detected after RCE removal. Annexin V staining and PARP cleavage analysis revealed a minimal induction of apoptosis in MDA-MB-231 cells. Electron microscopy revealed the presence of autophagic vacuoles in RCE-treated cells. Interestingly, blocking autophagy by 3-methyladenine (3-MA) or chloroquine (CQ) reduced RCE-induced cell death and senescence. RCE was also found to activate p38 and ERK1/2 signaling pathways which coincided with induction of autophagy. Furthermore, we found that while both autophagy inhibitors abolished p38 phosphorylation, only CQ led to significant decrease in pERK1/2. Finally, RCE induced DNA damage and reduced mutant p53, two events that preceded autophagy. Our findings provide strong evidence that R. coriaria possesses strong anti-breast cancer activity through induction of senescence and autophagic cell death, making it a promising alternative or adjunct therapeutic candidate against breast cancer.
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