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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences




Background: Membrane depolarization is associated with breast cancer. Depolarization-activated voltage-gated ion channels are directly implicated in the initiation, proliferation, and metastasis of breast cancer.

Methods: In this study, the role of voltage-gated potassium and calcium ion channel modulation was explored in two different invasive ductal human carcinoma cell lines, MDA-MB-231 (triple-negative) and MCF7 (estrogen-receptor-positive).

Results: Resting membrane potential is more depolarized in MCF7 and MDA-MB-231 cells compared to normal human mammary epithelial cells. Increasing extracellular potassium concentration up to 50 mM depolarized mem‑ brane potential and greatly increased cell growth. Tetraethylammonium (TEA), a non-specific blocker of voltagegated potassium channels, stimulated growth of MCF7 cells (control group grew by 201 %, 1 mM TEA group grew 376 %). Depolarization-induced calcium influx was hypothesized as a requirement for growth of human breast cancer. Removing calcium from culture medium stopped growth of MDA and MCF7 cells, leading to cell death after 1 week. Verapamil, a blocker of voltage-gated calcium channels clinically used in treating hypertension and coronary disease, inhibited growth of MDA cells at low concentration (10–20 μM) by 73 and 92 % after 1 and 2 days, respectively. At high concentration (100 μM), verapamil killed >90 % of MDA and MCF7 cells after 1 day. Immunoblotting experiments demonstrated that an increased expression of caspase-3, critical in apoptosis signaling, positively correlated with verapamil concentration in MDA cells. In MCF7, caspase-9 expression is increased in response to verapamil.

Conclusions: Our results support our hypotheses that membrane depolarization and depolarization-induced calcium influx stimulate proliferation of human breast cancer cells, independently of cancer subtypes. The underlying mechanism of verapamil-induced cell death involves different caspases in MCF7 and MDA-MB-231. These data sug‑ gest that voltage-gated potassium and calcium channels may be putative targets for pharmaceutical remediation in human invasive ductal carcinomas.

Source Citation

Berzingi, S., Newman, M., & Yu, H.-G. (2016). Altering bioelectricity on inhibition of human breast cancer cells. Cancer Cell International, 16(1).


© 2016 The Author(s). This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.



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