Background: Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent gynecologic malignancies world-wide. Despite the high sensitivity in response to chemotherapy, drug resistance occurred frequently in clinical treatment. Cryptotanshinone (CTS) is a herbal medicine and has been identified as an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative drug. Methods: In vitro assays, including the cell proliferation assay, colony formation assay, Western blot analysis, transwell migration/invasion assays, and cell scratch assay were used to explore the biological activities and working mechanism of CTS. Breast cancer cells were also transfected with PKM2 expressing vectors to define the molecular mechanisms involved in CTS-mediated anti-tumor activity. Results: We found that CTS shows anti-proliferative effects and decreases the clonogenic ability of breast cancer cells. We also found that CTS inhibited the migration and invasion activity of MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cells by different analyzed methods. CTS also down-regulated the levels of glycolysis-related proteins, such as PKM2, LDHA, and HK2. In addition, overexpression of PKM2 recovered CTS-mediated suppression of cell proliferation, colony formation, and cell mobility of breast cancer cells. We also found PKM2 was significantly overexpressed in tumor tissues and invasive ductal breast carcinoma compared to normal tissues and patients with high PKM2 expression had worse overall survival and metastasis-free survival outcomes. Conclusion: CTS inhibited the proliferation, migration, and invasion of breast cancer cells. The involved mechanism may refer to the downregulation of the PKM2/β-catenin axis.
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