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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e57971. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057971. Epub 2013 Mar 5.

Metabolomics reveals metabolic targets and biphasic responses in breast cancer cells treated by curcumin alone and in association with docetaxel.

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University of Auvergne-UDA, 49 boulevard François Mitterrand, F-63001 Clermont-Ferrand, France.



Curcumin (CUR) has deserved extensive research due to its anti-inflammatory properties, of interest in human diseases including cancer. However, pleiotropic even paradoxical responses of tumor cells have been reported, and the mechanisms of action of CUR remain uncompletely elucidated.


(1)H-NMR spectroscopy-based metabolomics was applied to get novel insight into responses of MCF7 and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells to CUR alone, and MCF7 cells to CUR in cotreatment with docetaxel (DTX). In both cell types, a major target of CUR was glutathione metabolism. Total glutathione (GSx) increased at low dose CUR (≤ 10 mg.l(-1)-28 µM-) (up to +121% in MCF7 cells, P<0.01, and +138% in MDA-MB-231 cells, P<0.01), but decreased at high dose (≥ 25 mg.l(-1) -70 µM-) (-49%, in MCF7 cells, P<0.02, and -56% in MDA-MB-231 cells, P<0.025). At high dose, in both cell types, GSx-related metabolites decreased, including homocystein, creatine and taurine (-60 to -80%, all, P<0.05). Together with glutathione-S-transferase actvity, data established that GSx biosynthesis was upregulated at low dose, and GSx consumption activated at high dose. Another major target, in both cell types, was lipid metabolism involving, at high doses, accumulation of polyunsaturated and total free fatty acids (between ×4.5 and ×11, P<0.025), and decrease of glycerophospho-ethanolamine and -choline (about -60%, P<0.025). Multivariate statistical analyses showed a metabolic transition, even a biphasic behavior of some metabolites including GSx, between low and high doses. In addition, CUR at 10 mg.l(-1) in cotreatment with DTX induced modifications in glutathione metabolism, lipid metabolism, and glucose utilization. Some of these changes were biphasic depending on the duration of exposure to CUR.


Metabolomics reveals major metabolic targets of CUR in breast cancer cells, and biphasic responses that challenge the widely accepted beneficial effects of the phytochemical.

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