Objectives:  Cancer stem cells make up a subpopulation of cells within tumours that drive tumour initiation, growth and recurrence. They are resistant to many current types of cancer treatment, causing failure of such therapeutic approaches, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In the study described here, anti-proliferative effects of 3-O-methylfunicone (OMF), a metabolite from Penicillium pinophilum, were investigated on human breast cancer MCF-7 cells and cancer stem cells selected as mammospheres derived from MCF-7s.

Materials and methods:  Stemness markers were analysed on isolated mammospheres showing positive expression of CD24, CD29, CD44, CD133, CD184 and CD338. Cell proliferation and apoptosis were analysed by flow cytometry and RT-PCR. Cell colony formation assays were performed to evaluate colony formation of mammospheres.

Results and conclusion:  OMF treatment affected both MCF-7 and mammosphere growth, inducing apoptosis. In addition, OMF strongly reduced stemness markers and survivin, hTERT and Nanog-1 gene expression. Growth of colonies in soft-agar was significantly affected by OMF treatment, too. Lastly, we tested ability of MCF-7 cells to form mammospheres after treatment with OMF or cisplatin, demonstrating that OMF treatment resulted in drastic reduction in number of mammospheres. These results introduce OMF as an effective molecule in suppressing breast cancer stem cells.