Abstract

Background

Benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC), a compound found in cruciferous vegetables, has been reported to have anticancer properties, but the mechanism whereby it inhibits growth of human pancreatic cancer cells is incompletely understood.

Methods

Human pancreatic cancer cells (BxPC-3, AsPC-1, Capan-2, MiaPaCa-2, and Panc-1) and immortalized human pancreatic cells (HPDE-6) were treated with vehicle or with BITC at 5–40 μM, cell survival was evaluated by sulforhodamine B assay, and apoptosis by caspase-3 and poly-ADP ribose polymerase cleavage or by a commercial assay for cell death. Total and activated signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 (STAT-3) protein expression in the cells were examined by western blotting, STAT-3 mRNA levels by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction, and STAT-3 DNA-binding and transcriptional activity by commercially available binding and reporter assays. The effects of BITC treatment on tumor growth, apoptosis, and STAT-3 protein expression in vivo were studied in xenografts of BxPC-3 pancreatic tumor cells in athymic nude mice. All statistical tests were two-sided.

Results

BITC treatment reduced cell survival and induced apoptosis in BxPC-3, AsPC-1, Capan-2, and MiaPaCa-2 cells, and to a much lesser extent in Panc-1 cells, but not in HPDE-6 cells. It also reduced levels of activated and total STAT-3 protein, and as a result, STAT-3 DNA-binding and transcriptional activities. Overexpression of STAT-3 in BxPC-3 cells inhibited BITC-induced apoptosis and restored STAT-3 activity. In mice that were fed BITC (60 μmol/wk, five mice, 10 tumors per group), growth of BxPC-3 pancreatic tumor xenografts was suppressed compared with control mice (at 6 weeks, mean tumor volume of control vs BITC-treated mice = 334 vs 172 mm 3 , difference =162 mm 3 , 95% confidence interval = 118 to 204 mm 3 ; P = .008) and tumors had increased apoptosis and reduced STAT-3 protein expression.

Conclusion

BITC induces apoptosis in some types of pancreatic cancer cells by inhibiting the STAT-3 signaling pathway.

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