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Cancer Res. 2004 Feb 1;64(3):1071-8.

Induction of apoptosis in leukemic cells by homovanillic acid derivative, capsaicin, through oxidative stress: implication of phosphorylation of p53 at Ser-15 residue by reactive oxygen species.

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Division of Hematology, Department of Internal Medicine, Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan.


Capsaicin (N-vanillyl-8-methyl-1-nonenamide) is a homovanillic acid derivative found in pungent fruits. Several investigators have reported the ability of capsaicin to inhibit events associated with the promotion of cancer. However, the effects of capsaicin on human leukemic cells have never been investigated. We investigated the effects of capsaicin on leukemic cells in vitro and in vivo and further examined the molecular mechanisms of capsaicin-induced apoptosis in myeloid leukemic cells. Capsaicin suppressed the growth of leukemic cells, but not normal bone marrow mononuclear cells, via induction of G(0)-G(1) phase cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Capsaicin-induced apoptosis was in association with the elevation of intracellular reactive oxygen species production. Interestingly, capsaicin-sensitive leukemic cells were possessed of wild-type p53, resulting in the phosphorylation of p53 at the Ser-15 residue by the treatment of capsaicin. Abrogation of p53 expression by the antisense oligonucleotides significantly attenuated capsaicin-induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Pretreatment with the antioxidant N-acetyl-L-cystein and catalase, but not superoxide dismutase, completely inhibited capsaicin-induced apoptosis by inhibiting phosphorylation of Ser-15 residue of p53. Moreover, capsaicin effectively inhibited tumor growth and induced apoptosis in vivo using NOD/SCID mice with no toxic effects. We conclude that capsaicin has potential as a novel therapeutic agent for the treatment of leukemia.

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