Natural products have become increasingly important in pharmaceutical discoveries, and traditional herbalism has been a pioneering specialty in biomedical science. The search for effective plant-derived anticancer agents has continued to gain momentum in recent years. The present study aimed to investigate the role of crude extracts of the aerial parts of Artemisia absinthium (AA) extract in modulating intracellular signaling mechanisms, in particular its ability to inhibit cell proliferation and promote apoptosis in a human breast carcinoma estrogenic-unresponsive cell line, MDA-MB-231, and an estrogenic-responsive cell line, MCF-7. Cells were incubated with various concentrations of AA, and anti-proliferative activity was assessed by MTT assays, fluorescence microscopy after propidium iodide staining, western blotting and cell cycle analysis. Cell survival assays indicated that AA was cytotoxic to both MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 cells. The morphological features typical of nucleic staining and the accumulation of sub-G1 peak revealed that the extract triggered apoptosis. Treatment with 25 μg/mL AA resulted in activation of caspase-7 and upregulation of Bad in MCF-7 cells, while exposure to 20 μg/mL AA induced upregulation of Bcl-2 protein in a time-dependent response in MDA-MB-231 cells. Both MEK1/2 and ERK1/2 was inactivated in both cell lines after AA treatment in a time-dependent manner. These results suggest that AA-induced anti-proliferative effects on human breast cancer cells could possibly trigger apoptosis in both cell lines through the modulation of Bcl-2 family proteins and the MEK/ERK pathway. This might lead to its possible development as a therapeutic agent for breast cancer following further investigations.
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