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Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 2003 Jul;56(1):121-32.

Hyperforin a constituent of St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum L.) extract induces apoptosis by triggering activation of caspases and with hypericin synergistically exerts cytotoxicity towards human malignant cell lines.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Hyperforin (HP) is an abundant component of St John's wort with antibiotic and antidepressive activity. We report here the ability of HP and that of polyphenolic procyanidin B2 (PB-2) to inhibit the growth of leukemia K562 and U937 cells, brain glioblastoma cells LN229 and normal human astrocytes. HP inhibited the growth of cells in vitro with GI(50) values between 14.9 and 19.9 microM. The growth inhibitory effect of PB-2 was more pronounced in leukemia cell lines K562 and U937, the GI(50) concentrations being about 12.5 microM established after 48 h incubation differed significantly (P<0.05) from those of LN229 and normal human astrocytes (103.1 and 96.7 microM), respectively. Further, HP and hypericin (HY) (a naphthodianthrone from St John's wort) acted synergistically in their inhibitory effect on leukemic (K562, U937) cell growth. Cell death occurred after 24 h treatment with HP and PB-2 by apoptosis. A dose-dependent loss of membrane phospholipid asymmetry associated with apoptosis was induced in all cell lines as evidenced by the externalization of phosphatidylserine (PS) and morphological changes in cell size and granulosity by scatter characteristics. In leukemia U937 cells, HP increased the activity of caspase-9 and caspase-3 and in K562 cells caspase-8 and caspase-3. In addition, the broad spectrum caspase inhibitor z-VAD-fmk inhibited both the appearance of PS exposure and the activation of caspases, illustrating the functional relevance of caspase activation during HP-induced apoptosis. Cytocidal effects of HP and its cooperation with HY on tumor growth inhibition in a synergistic manner make the St John's wort an interesting option in cancer warranting further in vitro and in vivo investigation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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