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Carcinogenesis. 2012 Apr;33(4):868-75. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgs029. Epub 2012 Jan 31.

Curcumin inhibits protein phosphatases 2A and 5, leading to activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases and death in tumor cells.

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Department of Pharmacology, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Shandong University, 44 West Wenhua Road, Jinan 250012, Shandong Province, People's Republic of China.


Curcumin can induce p53-independent apoptosis. However, the underlying mechanism remains to be defined. Here, we show that curcumin-induced apoptosis in a panel of tumor cells with mutant p53. Curcumin rapidly induced activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) including extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (Erk1/2) and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK). Inhibition of JNK (with SP600125) or Erk1/2 (with U0126) partially prevented curcumin-induced cell death in the cells. Similarly, expression of dominant negative c-Jun or downregulation of Erk1/2 in part attenuated curcumin-induced cell death. It appears that curcumin-induced activation of MAPKs and apoptosis was due to induction of reactive oxygen species (ROS), as pretreatment with N-acetyl-L-cysteine, a ROS scavenger, blocked these events. Furthermore, we found that curcumin-induced activation of MAPK pathways was related to inhibition of the serine/threonine protein phosphatases 2A (PP2A) and 5 (PP5). Overexpression of PP2A or PP5 partially prevented curcumin-induced activation of JNK and Erk1/2 phosphorylation as well as cell death. The results suggest that curcumin induction of ROS activates MAPKs, at least partially by inhibiting PP2A and PP5, thereby leading to p53-independent apoptosis in tumor cells.

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