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Melanoma is a skin cancer associated with high mortality. The three year survival rate from advanced melanoma is between 10-15%. One reason for this high mortality rate is that melanoma cells are resistant to traditional chemotherapeutics. Echinacea is a plant genus native to North America with putative anticancer properties. Here, we examined effects of aqueous Echinacea purpurea leaf extract on the growth of melanoma cells and nontransformed fibroblasts. This aqueous extract reduced B16 mouse melanoma cell growth at concentrations that did not inhibit the growth of nontransformed NIH3T3 fibroblasts, suggesting that the extract had biological specificity against transformed cells. We also examined the effect of different fractions of the extract on melanoma cell growth. These data indicate that components less than 3 kD in size exhibited the greatest inhibitory action on melanoma cell growth. In addition, these data indicated that larger components in the extract ameliorate the ability of these low molecular weight compounds to inhibit melanoma cell growth. Furthermore, Echinacea extract inhibited the growth of v-Src transformed LA25 cells without reducing Src kinase activity. Taken together, these results suggest that aqueous Echinacea purpurea extract contains low molecular weight compounds that preferentially inhibit tumor cell growth in the face of oncogenic tyrosine kinase activity. These data suggest future studies to better define bioactive compounds in Echinacea purpurea and evaluate their therapeutic efficacy in vivo.
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