Ursolic acid and oleanolic acid as novel therapeutic agents in breast cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in South Africa and the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society 2015, women have a 12% chance of developing invasive breast cancer and a 3% chance of dying from it. Despite the wide variety of breast cancers e.g. lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), many share the same etiology and target tissue. Estrogen related carcinogenesis with regard to breast cancer typically results from the activation of distinct signalling pathways. These pathways are not mutually exclusive and are often constituted by receptor mediated stimulation of cell proliferation caused by specific transcriptional gene activation, reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation causing DNA damage and consequently mutations. The molecular pathways that cause drug resistance are not fully understood and the search continues to find novel targets for treatment. The effects of non-toxic triterpenes, oleanolic acid and ursolic acid and the role of autophagy and apoptosis as mechanisms to overcome drug resistance in breast cancer were studied in vitro in MCF-7 breast cancer cells and MCF10A breast cells. In this study the first aim was to establish the influence of OA and UA on cell growth and to see if opposing proliferation patterns could observed between the presumably ERɑ negative (ERɑ/ß -/+) MCF-10A and ERɑ positive (ERɑ/ß +/+) MCF-7 cells. This was followed by morphology studies to establish the possible presence of cytotoxicity and examination of molecular pathways contributing to the anti-cancerous properties of UA and OA and their validity as therapeutic agents. The MCF-7 breast cancer cell line and the immortalized normal mammary cell line, MCF-10A were treated with different concentrations of UA and OA for 6hrs, 12hrs, 24hrs, 48hrs, and 72hrs respectively. Cell morphology was studied in hematoxylin and eosin as well as Hoechst and acridine orange stained cells and viability was measured using crystal violet staining. Molecular techniques employed included the Tali® Apoptosis - and the cellROX assays, flow cytometry and western blotting. Morphological, viability and apoptotic studies have shown that at their lowest concentration, both UA and OA have anti-proliferative and apoptotic effects on MCF-7 and to a lesser extent on MCF-10A. Flow cytometric analysis of treated cells has demonstrated cell arrest in the S- and G2/M phase. The MCF-7 and MCF-10A cells growth inhibition effect may be due to increased autophagy and apoptosis as an alternative to decreased proliferation in MCF-7 cells. This possibility should be evaluated in further studies. The results showed that UA was more effective OA in decreasing cell numbers and it may be applied as treatment for breast cancer. Our observation has shown the treatment with OA and UA increased cell death in MCF-7 cells.The opposing proliferation patterns observed between the presumably ERɑ negative (ERɑ/ß -/+) MCF-10A and ERɑ positive (ERɑ/ß +/+) MCF-7 cells could possibly be ascribed to ERß forming homodimers that may facilitate proliferation, whereas ERɑ/ß heterodimers (expressed in 59% of breast cancers) are frequently associated with the ERɑ antagonising actions of ERß. The results indicate a trend towards biphasic and anti- proliferative effects of the reactants in breast cancer cells which may contribute towards the development of anti- cancer therapies. However, further work is must be done to identify the OA and UA mechanism(s) responsible for anticancer activity.