Interleukin 4 inhibits growth and induces apoptosis in human breast cancer cells

Document Type


Publication Date



Interleukin-4 (IL-4) is a pleiotropic cytokine produced by mast cells and T lymphocytes that promotes proliferation and immunoglobulin class- switching in B cells. IL-4 receptors (IL-4Rs) are also expressed by nonhematopoietic cells as well as some tumor cells. Unlike its mitogenic effect on B cells, IL-4 inhibits the growth of some cancer cells in vitro. In this study, we show that IL-4R is expressed by breast and ovarian cancer cell lines. Furthermore, anchorage-dependent and -independent growth of breast cancer cell lines MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 is inhibited by IL-4 treatment, and this effect requires IL-4R. Interestingly, IL-4 only inhibited proliferating breast cancer cells and had no effect on basal, unstimulated growth. We therefore characterized the effect of IL-4 on breast cancer cell growth stimulated by either estradiol or insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I). In both anchorage-dependent and -independent growth assays, IL-4 inhibited estradiol-stimulated growth. The antiestrogen effect of IL-4 was not due to IL-4 interference with the estrogen receptor, because IL-4 did not interfere with estrogen receptor-mediated reporter gene transactivation. In contrast, IL-4 had no effect on IGF-I-stimulated proliferation. Because IGF-I is known to inhibit programmed cell death, we examined apoptosis as a possible mechanism of IL-4 action. We established that IL-4 induced apoptosis in breast cancer cells by five independent criteria: (a) morphological indicators including pyknotic nuclei and cytoplasmic condensation; (b) DNA fragmentation; (c) the formation of DNA laddering; (d) the cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase; and (e) the presence of cells with sub-G1 DNA content. IL-4 increased the percentage of apoptotic cells in MCF-7 and MDA- MB-231 cells 6.0- and 6.7-fold over that of the control, respectively. Finally, the addition of IGF-I reversed IL-4-induced apoptosis, suggesting that the mechanism of IL-4-induced growth inhibition in human breast cancer cells is the induction of programmed cell death.

Publication Title

Cancer research





First Page


Last Page



This article was published in Cancer research, Volume 58, Issue 18, Pages 4199-4205.

The published version is available at http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/58/18/4199.abstract .

Copyright © 1998 American Association for Cancer Research.

This document is currently not available here.