In a groundbreaking study published in the Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, researchers have found that icariin (ICA), a compound derived from traditional Chinese medicine, may regulate the detrimental EMT process and stem cell-like attributes in breast cancer cells. This significant discovery opens up the potential for new treatment avenues in combating the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women globally. The research focused on icariin’s effect on the lncRNA NEAT1/TGFβ/SMAD2 pathway, offering insights into its possible use in therapy.


1. Icariin Breast Cancer
3. TGFβ/SMAD2 Pathway
4. Anticancer Traditional Chinese Medicine
5. Cancer Stem Cell EMT

The Threat from Within: Understanding EMT and Cancer Stemness

Breast cancer (BC) remains the leading cause of tumor-associated morbidity among women. Metastases and drug resistance epitomize the perils patients face, often predicting a grim prognosis. Two biological phenomena pivotal to the progression and recurrence of BC include Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) and the formation of cancer stem cell-like characters. EMT bestows cancer cells with migratory and invasive skills, while cancer stem cells are implicated in resistance to therapies. The reversal or inhibition of these processes stands central to improving treatment outcomes.

Icariin: The Ancient Warrior Against a Modern Foe

Icariin (ICA), known for its anticancer properties, is derived from the plant genus Epimedium and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Its potential as an anticancer agent against BC has sparked growing interest, owing to its natural origin and relatively low toxicity profile. But its action at the cellular and molecular level in BC warranted deeper investigation.

The Study: Pathway to a Breakthrough

This recently published study, with DOI: 10.1248/bpb.b23-00668, authored by Song Bo and colleagues from the Shanxi University of Chinese Medicine and related institutions, shines a light on icariin’s capability to suppress BC progression. The research methodology included an array of in vitro assays to assess the proliferation, EMT, and stemness in MDA-MB-231, a BC cell line. Through MTT and colony formation assays, Western blotting, immunofluorescence, and wound healing studies, the researchers pinpointed icariin’s inhibitory effects.

Their findings indicate a significant suppression of cell proliferation, EMT markers, and stem cell-like properties post-ICA treatment. It was observed that ICA’s influence was not an isolated event but engaged a complex intracellular signaling pathway: the TGFβ/SMAD2, which is deeply implicated in the process of EMT and stemness articulation in cancer cells.

LncRNAs: The Puppeteers of Gene Regulation

Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are critical regulators of gene expression in many biological processes, including cancer. The lncRNA NEAT1 emerged as a central figure in the study. NEAT1 is known for its role in the regulation of EMT and stem cell characteristics in BC. The researchers explored the interplay between icariin and NEAT1, discovering that icariin effectively downregulated NEAT1 expression. Furthermore, silencing NEAT1 amplified icariin’s suppressive effects on EMT and stem cell marker expression. This finding implicated NEAT1 as a potentially valuable therapeutic target in BC treatment.

Enhancing the Effects: The Power of Silencing NEAT1

The study not only reinforced icariin’s capacity to dial down the EMT and stem cell-like traits but also provided evidence that the silencing of NEAT1 could attenuate the TGFβ/SMAD2 signaling pathway. This led to a notable enhancement of icariin’s inhibitory impact on these aggressive cancer attributes. In essence, the combined strategy of icariin treatment and NEAT1 silence may offer a double blow against the invasive and resistant forces of BC cells.

Implications and Future Research

The findings of the study, with potential implications for BC therapy, paint an optimistic picture of future treatments integrating icariin. It prompt a reevaluation of traditional medicine compounds in the context of modern oncology. As with any study, clinical trials and further research are imperative to validate the findings and assess the safety and efficacy of icariin in a clinical setting.

Conclusion: Hope on the Horizon

The study, heralded for its innovative approach, contributes to the pressing need for new BC treatments that effectively target metastasis and therapy resistance. The regulatory impact of icariin on the NEAT1/TGFβ/SMAD2 signaling pathway could form the bedrock of pioneering BC treatments. This research offers hope that leveraging ancient wisdom through compounds like icariin can bring science one step closer to turning the tide against breast cancer.


1. Song, B., Wei, F., Peng, J., Wei, X., Liu, M., Nie, Z., Ma, Y., & Peng, T. (2024). Icariin regulates EMT and stem cell-like character in breast cancer through modulating lncRNA NEAT1/TGFβ/SMAD2 signaling pathway. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, DOI: 10.1248/bpb.b23-00668

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This news article discusses a scientific study and is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be construed as medical advice.