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Biliverdin reductase, biliverdin and bilirubin are known as important components of cellular signaling pathways that play major roles in cell proliferation and apoptosis, although their physiological relevance is still under evaluation. This study was designed to investigate the expression and activity of BVR-A and its apoptotic effect in the breast cancer cell lines, MCF‐7 and MDA‐MB‐468. The expression of BVR-A was examined by real‐time PCR and western blot analysis. Bilirubin concentration was measured by HPLC and molecular docking was performed to identify an appropriate inhibitor for BVR-A. To detect cell apoptosis, annexin V‐PI staining, caspase-3, -8, and -9 activities were evaluated. Cell viability was reduced by biliverdin, in a dose‐dependent manner, and an intrinsic apoptotic response occurred which was evidenced by caspase‐3 and -9 activities. The intra- and extracellular concentrations of bilirubin were higher in MCF-7 cells than those of MDA-MB-468 cells. The expression of BVR-A, at mRNA and protein levels, in MCF-7 was also higher than that of MDA-MB-468 cells. Treatment of both cell lines with biliverdin plus DTNB, a BVR-A inhibitor, increased the cell death significantly when compared with biliverdin alone. Using annexin V-PI staining and assessment of caspase‐3 activity, it was confirmed that biliverdin together with DTNB increases apoptosis in breast cancer cells. In conclusion, biliverdin has an important role in cell apoptosis and inhibition of biliverdin reductase increases the apoptotic effect of biliverdin.
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