Phenanthroindolizidine Alkaloids Isolated from Tylophora ovata as Potent Inhibitors of Inflammation, Spheroid Growth, and Invasion of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Irene Reimche, Haiqian Yu, Ni Putu Ariantari, Zhen Liu, Kay Merkens, Stella Rotfuß, Karin Peter, Ute Jungwirth, Nadine Bauer, Friedemann Kiefer, Jörg Martin Neudörfl, Hans Günther Schmalz, Peter Proksch, Nicole Teusch

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3 Citations (SciVal)


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), representing the most aggressive form of breast cancer with currently no targeted therapy available, is characterized by an inflammatory and hypoxic tumor microenvironment. To date, a broad spectrum of anti-tumor activities has been reported for phenanthroindolizidine alkaloids (PAs), however, their mode of action in TNBC remains elusive. Thus, we investigated six naturally occurring PAs extracted from the plant Tylophora ovata: O-methyltylophorinidine (1) and its five derivatives tylophorinidine (2), tylophoridicine E (3), 2-demethoxytylophorine (4), tylophoridicine D (5), and anhydrodehydrotylophorinidine (6). In comparison to natural (1) and for more-in depth studies, we also utilized a sample of synthetic O-methyltylophorinidine (1s). Our results indicate a remarkably effective blockade of nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) within 2 h for compounds (1) and (1s) (IC50 = 17.1 ± 2.0 nM and 3.3 ± 0.2 nM) that is different from its effect on cell viability within 24 h (IC50 = 13.6 ± 0.4 nM and 4.2 ± 1 nM). Furthermore, NFκB inhibition data for the additional five analogues indicate a structure-activity relationship (SAR). Mechanistically, NFκB is significantly blocked through the stabilization of its inhibitor protein kappa B alpha (IκBα) under normoxic as well as hypoxic conditions. To better mimic the TNBC microenvironment in vitro, we established a 3D co-culture by combining the human TNBC cell line MDA-MB-231 with primary murine cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF) and type I collagen. Compound (1) demonstrates superiority against the therapeutic gold standard paclitaxel by diminishing spheroid growth by 40% at 100 nM. The anti-proliferative effect of (1s) is distinct from paclitaxel in that it arrests the cell cycle at the G0/G1 state, thereby mediating a time-dependent delay in cell cycle progression. Furthermore, (1s) inhibited invasion of TNBC monoculture spheroids into a matrigel®-based environment at 10 nM. In conclusion, PAs serve as promising agents with presumably multiple target sites to combat inflammatory and hypoxia-driven cancer, such as TNBC, with a different mode of action than the currently applied chemotherapeutic drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10319
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2022


  • 3D spheroid
  • cancer-associated fibroblast (CAF)
  • hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)
  • nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB)
  • O-methyltylophorinidine
  • phenanthroindolizidine alkaloids
  • triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC)
  • tumor microenvironment (TME)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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