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The isoflavone metabolite 6-methoxyequol inhibits angiogenesis and suppresses tumor growth

Sofia Bellou12, Evdoxia Karali26, Eleni Bagli2, Nawaf Al-Maharik3, Lucia Morbidelli4, Marina Ziche4, Herman Adlercreutz5, Carol Murphy2 and Theodore Fotsis26*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Engineering Informatics and Telecommunications, University of Western Macedonia, 50100, Kozani, Greece

2 Department of Biomedical Research, Foundation of Research and Technology-Hellas, Institute of Molecular Biology & Biotechnology, University Campus, 45110, Ioannina, Greece

3 School of Chemistry, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9ST, Scotland, UK

4 Department of Molecular Biology, University of Siena, Via Aldo Moro 2, 53100, Siena, Italy

5 Folkhälsan Research Centre, and Department of Clinical Chemistry, Biomedicum, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 63, FIN-00014, Helsinki, Finland

6 Laboratory of Biological Chemistry, Medical School, University of Ioannina, 45110, Ioannina, Greece

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Molecular Cancer 2012, 11:35  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-11-35

Published: 14 May 2012



Increased consumption of plant-based diets has been linked to the presence of certain phytochemicals, including polyphenols such as flavonoids. Several of these compounds exert their protective effect via inhibition of tumor angiogenesis. Identification of additional phytochemicals with potential antiangiogenic activity is important not only for understanding the mechanism of the preventive effect, but also for developing novel therapeutic interventions.


In an attempt to identify phytochemicals contributing to the well-documented preventive effect of plant-based diets on cancer incidence and mortality, we have screened a set of hitherto untested phytoestrogen metabolites concerning their anti-angiogenic effect, using endothelial cell proliferation as an end point. Here, we show that a novel phytoestrogen, 6-methoxyequol (6-ME), inhibited VEGF-induced proliferation of human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVE) cells, whereas VEGF-induced migration and survival of HUVE cells remained unaffected. In addition, 6-ME inhibited FGF-2-induced proliferation of bovine brain capillary endothelial (BBCE) cells. In line with its role in cell proliferation, 6-ME inhibited VEGF-induced phosphorylation of ERK1/2 MAPK, the key cascade responsible for VEGF-induced proliferation of endothelial cells. In this context, 6-ME inhibited in a dose dependent manner the phosphorylation of MEK1/2, the only known upstream activator of ERK1/2. 6-ME did not alter VEGF-induced phosphorylation of p38 MAPK or AKT, compatible with the lack of effect on VEGF-induced migration and survival of endothelial cells. Peri-tumor injection of 6-ME in A-431 xenograft tumors resulted in reduced tumor growth with suppressed neovasularization compared to vehicle controls (P < 0.01).


6-ME inhibits VEGF- and FGF2-induced proliferation of ECs by targeting the phosphorylation of MEK1/2 and it downstream substrate ERK1/2, both key components of the mitogenic MAPK pathway. Injection of 6-ME in mouse A-431 xenograft tumors results to tumors with decreased neovascularization and reduced tumor volume suggesting that 6-ME may be developed to a novel anti-angiogenic agent in cancer treatment.

Angiogenesis; VEGF; Phytoestrogen; MAPK; A-431 xenograft